• Zoe Cawthorn

Seeing the Future: The Fred Hollows Foundation has Restored Sight to Over 2.5 Million People

Updated: Dec 10, 2019

Many people across the world live with blindness that could be treated or prevented if they only had access to adequate eye health care. Often, a simple 20 minute surgical procedure is all that is required to restore a person's sight, but many people don't have access to affordable eye care, leaving them in the dark, lonely world of blindness.

The Fred Hollows Foundation is working in 25 countries, to treat and prevent avoidable blindness caused by conditions such as cataract, trachoma and diabetic retinopathy. To date they have restored the sight of 2.5 million people. Two of those people are Thol, an impoverished mother of four children in Cambodia, and Faith, a 3-year-old girl from Kenya who was born blind.


Thol's Story

Thol and her family at their humble home in Cambodia Photo: The Fred Hollows Foundation

Thol's blindness developed while she was pregnant with her fourth child, Cheet. Tragically, her husband abandoned her (not wanting a blind wife), leaving her to care for their four children alone and without her sight. Thol had to rely on her three older children for food and care, and was isolated in their tiny bamboo hut which balanced on a wooden platform and provided the family little shelter. She struggled to keep baby Cheet safe, while her older children had given up school to do whatever was needed to keep the family from starvation. With no money or means of transportation to seek help, Thol's situation seemed helpless.


Luckily for Thol, a young Cambodian eye surgeon, Dr Sarath, was able to travel to Thol's village and perform the 15-minute cataract surgery she needed. When Thol opened her eyes, she saw her baby for the first time and the smiling faces of her children beamed back at her. She said:

"I am so happy that on New Year I am going to dance.".

With her sight restored, Thol now sells vegetables and her children have returned to school. This family's life has been transformed and now they live with hope instead of resignation. See the moment Thol regained her sight:


Faith's Story

Helen working in the fields with Faith on her back. Photo: The Fred Hollows Foundation

On the other side of the world, in a rural community in Kenya, a little girl call Faith was abandoned by her parents because of her blindness. Faith was taken in by her Aunt Helen, who took on the back-breaking task of carrying Faith on her back as she worked in the fields. Helen had 5 other children and the whole family lived in a modest hut with only basic necessities.


However, Faith was a bright, curious girl who yearned to go to school and Helen never gave up searching for a better life for her. Hearing about an eye clinic through an outreach programme, they made the 25 kilometer journey on foot together to seek help. The Fred Hollows Foundation then organised for Helen and Faith to make a 5-hour drive to the Sabatia Eye Hospital, where Dr Ollando, an ophthalmologist trained by the Foundation, performed Faith's cataract surgery. The next morning, Faith's eye patches were removed and it was clear she could see. The first thing she wanted was a pen! Now that Faith has her sight, she can go to school, something which would not have been possible for a blind girl in remote Kenya, but something that is so important for hope of a bright future.


The Fred Hollows Foundation

Fred Hollows began helping disadvantaged people with avoidable blindness in 1968, when visiting an Aboriginal camp in the Northern Territory of his home country of Australia, where many adults and children were suffering from blinding trachoma. In the 1980's, he went on to travel the world with the World Health Organisation, and set up factories in Nepal and Eritrea to manufacture affordable intraocular lenses. Fred had a dream to end avoidable blindness across the globe and kept pushing for change in countries he deeply cared about. Despite having been diagnosed with cancer, Fred discharged himself from hospital to fly to Vietnam and train over 300 Vietnamese eye specialists in modern surgery techniques. Fred and his wife Gabi, set up the Fred Hollows Foundation with some friends, to ensure his wonderful work would continue into the future. To find out more about this pioneering work, visit The Fred Hollows Foundation website or see what you can do to help by clicking here.