If ever there were a Cinderella story, Monica Islam was born to play the part.
Monica, 30, was born to a rural farming family outside the Bangladeshi capital,
Dhaka, with eyes that could see and a spirit that soared. But a happy childhood was not to be. Monica’s eyesight began to fail at age 8, and because of her family’s dire financial situation, she could not afford to see a doctor.
Forced to drop out of school because of her poor vision, Monica went to live with an aunt who sheltered her but made her life miserable. Subject to a constant barrage of verbal and physical abuse, and made to eat alone, if given food at all, she considered suicide to end what she saw as a hopeless situation.
Cornea transplant recommended
At age 15, Monica made it to
Hospital, where doctors told her she would have to go abroad for a cornea transplant if she wanted to see again. But having no money to pay for such an operation or for the journey, Monica returned to her aunt’s house, dejected.
Monica’s aunt berated her for being such a burden. How could she marry off a blind girl? she asked. “You’re utterly useless,” she’d say over and over.
Enter Prince Charming
Monica actually did receive proposals, but she refused them all because she feared being cast out once her husband tired of her. After all, she wouldn’t be able to take care of the house or any children she might have. She could only imagine a lifetime of abuse or being forced out onto the street.
But one day she received a proposal she couldn’t refuse. An acquaintance of her brother’s offered to marry her. His name was Azharul Islam. He was in his late 60s, long separated from his wife, and relatively well off. He was a pious man who had made the pilgrimage to
Azharul had read about a young woman who was blind and looking for a husband, and he thought marrying a woman like that would be a kindness. An herbalist, Azharul asked his clients if they knew of such a woman nearby. That’s when he learned of Monica, and she agreed to his proposal.
Love blooms and eyesight restored
After their marriage, Monica moved to Azharul’s one-room home, where their love took hold. Azharul, semi-retired, assumed the household chores that Monica could not. He paid for Monica’s two cornea transplants and a subsequent cataract removal — all performed at
Dhaka, available now thanks to a new cornea unit supported by ORBIS International.
Dr. Sayed A. Hassan, coordinator of the ORBIS-sponsored cornea training project at
Hospital and founder of the hospital’s cornea unit, did all three surgeries, and ORBIS partner Sandhani Eye Bank supplied the corneas.
Now Monica can see, work, dream and love.
“When my bandages were removed I felt that, if I were a bird, I would go fly and tell everyone how happy I was,” Monica recalls. “I am so happy — how beautiful the world is! From a very early age I was seeing just the dark, and now I see the light. I feel like my life is a spectrum of colors.”
Happily ever after
Despite a 40-year age difference, Monica and Azharul are very much in love. They take each other’s hand in public — a rarity in Bangladeshi society — and they look at each other with a palpable joy.
Azharul encouraged Monica to continue with her education and pursue a career. Monica, thrilled at the thought, wanted to work in a field in which she could help others. She now works as a patient care attendant in the pediatric ward of Islamia Eye Hospital, where she received her eye surgery.
“I want to dedicate my life to benevolent works,” Monica says. “I like helping and caring for other people. … Before, all I did was worry about what would happen if I was kicked out and no one gave me shelter. But everything is good now. Azharul loves me very much, and I can see fully.”
You can help
When Monica first learned she needed cornea transplantation, there were no cornea transplant surgeons in her native
Bangladesh. But with the financial contributions of caring people like yourself, ORBIS initiated a cornea unit at
Hospital that includes cornea transplantation and surgical training. In addition, ORBIS worked with Sandhani National Eye Donation Society to build the country’s first eye bank.
With your help, ORBIS can continue training doctors in cornea transplantation as well as strengthen eye banks in developing countries. Blindness in
Bangladesh can be prevented. Please give generously so that others may see.