Celebration and Events

Graduate, Dancer, Business Person: How a Miracle Changed Joanna’s Life

By: Mariska Meldrum

In my role as Campaign Manager for CBM’s Miracles Day – which this year celebrates 10 years of transforming lives in some of the world’s poorest places – people often ask me how their donation makes a difference in providing somebody the gift of sight.

I always say the same thing – “let me tell you about Joanna.”

I met 13-year-old Joanna in the Philippines in 2017, a month after I had started my role with CBM. I was drawn to working with the organisation because of its devotion to fighting the cycle of disability and poverty which is particularly prevalent in developing countries.

Before I was introduced to Joanna, I heard gut-wrenching sobs from her mum Frenil from across the room. Frenil explained that Joanna had been a high achiever in school, topping her class in grade six, but an undiagnosed health condition had led to her developing cataracts in both eyes.

“When I wake up one day, I can’t see everything… I can’t see my classmates, my dictionary, nothing,” she told me.

Cataracts are one of the leading causes of blindness around the world. The majority of people who experience the preventable and treatable condition are in low income countries where they cannot access or afford sight-saving surgery.

Before CBM intervened, this had been the case for Joanna.

“When I wake up one day, I can’t see everything… I can’t see my classmates, my dictionary, nothing,” she told me.

Turned Away From School, Losing Her Hobbies

Joanna was turned away from her local high school due to her vision impairment, she could no longer take part in hobbies like dancing, and her dream of becoming a successful businessperson when she was older seemed out of reach.

Because of Miracles Day, and the generous support of Australians giving on Miracles Day, Joanna and her mum had hope of a brighter future.

“I was there when Joanna was taken in for surgery and her mum Frenil said, “it’s my deepest desire for Joanna to be able to finish her studies”.

People living with cataracts can have their sight restored by a 12-minute surgery, which costs just $33. Since CBM established Miracles Day 10 years ago, more than 300,000 Miracles of sight have been donated, changing lives forever.

I was there when Joanna was taken in for surgery and her mum Frenil turned to me and said “it’s my deepest desire for Joanna to be able to finish her studies”.

As a mum of three young children myself, I knew how worried Frenil had been about her daughter’s future. Joanna had already had surgery on one eye a few weeks earlier, and once her second eye was done, Frenil hoped the high school would accept Joanna.

The next day, CBM’s partner staff took the patch off Joanna’s eye and assessed her sight. Frenil and I hugged at the good news surgery had been a success, but I left not knowing if her life would be changed the way the family hoped.

Dreams Fulfilled

Five months later I returned to the Philippines with a team of radio hosts, who were there to broadcast Miracles Day from the field and witness life-transforming cataract surgeries.

I was delighted when Joanna and Frenil visited our hotel and shared the incredible news that Joanna’s surgery been successful and that that she was happily in high school.

Before she left, Joanna showed me some impressive dance moves to a Bruno Mars song in the hotel lobby. She told me her dreams had come true – not only had she started high school, but she could dance again.

Joanna, recipient of a CBM life changing surgery
Above: Joanna in 2017, after her cataract surgery.

Over the next few years, I found myself wondering how the surgery had changed Joanna’s life, and hoping she was still studying towards her goal of becoming a businessperson.

Last year, staff from CBM’s partner agency in the Philippines visited Joanna at her home. They, and I, were thrilled to discover that Joanna was again topping her class at school and had also helped her mum to set up a shop. This meant a steady income for her entire family. Only four years after experiencing blindness, Joanna had achieved her goal of becoming a businessperson!

I thought that would be the last I would hear of Joanna, but I recently received an unexpected email from a colleague in the Philippines who had met Joanna with me in 2017. She shared the news that Joanna had just graduated from high school.

I thought back to that young girl and her mum, sobbing in the hospital together as they shared their pain and fears for the future, and I smiled as I pictured Frenil proudly watching Joanna graduating from high school.

Make A Difference Today

This year’s Miracles Day is on Thursday, August 18 and the radio-thon will be broadcast on Christian radio stations around Australia. There’s a backlog of people needing urgent cataract surgery as a result of COVID-19 lockdowns and restrictions – which is why CBM is calling on Australians to unite and give 52,000 Miracles of sight-saving surgery this year.

Your $33 donation on Miracles Day, can help other people just like Joanna. Incredible and resilient people who, instead of a life spent blind and reliant on others for support, can achieve their dreams and live life to the full.

Can you join us in giving someone like Joanna the gift of sight by donating a $33 Miracle today? Visit miraclesday.com.au or call 131 226 to donate.

Article supplied with thanks to CBM.

Feature image: Joanna and her mother in 2022. (Supplied, CBM)

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