… as the siblings battle vision loss

Younten Tshedup, | Panbang

It is every mother’s dream to see her child grow but only some have the privilege.

Rinchen Yangzom, 30, from Tsangtsiri village under Phangkhar gewog in Zhemgang is a mother but she doesn’t know how her daughter looks like.

She lost her vision at the age of 15 when she had an epileptic fit. Her elder sister and younger brothers also had lost their vision while growing up.

Rinchen married seven years ago and gave birth a year later. It was then the real challenge of being visually impaired struck her when she couldn’t see her daughter.

“I’ve always longed to see my daughter since I gave birth to her,” she said. “I’ve only heard the change in her voice over the years and a shadowy figure grow with each passing moment.”

She said that she keeps wondering how her daughter looks like today. “Does she have my nose? Is her hair straight like mine or curly like her father’s? Is she growing up well with good friends around? Will she be a good person when she grows up?”

The daughter is six this year. She would soon go to school.

She is seen holding her mother’s hand and helping her to walk around the village sometimes.

Rinchen said that her daughter is more attached to her father and grandparents than her. “I think it’s only natural for her to be closer to them. I could never be close to her even if I wanted for the fear I might hurt her.”

She said that the fact her daughter could grow up well thus far was all because of the supportive husband and parents. “My only regret would be not contributing to my daughter’s growth but I hope she would understand this someday.”


What caused the siblings to lose their vision?

All five siblings in the family are visually impaired.

Namgay, 27, was the first one to lose his sight at the age of 14. He was studying in class IV then.

“I was inside the classroom when my vision was clouded and a bright light sparked for a few seconds,” he said. “I had not completely lost my vision then. I continued till class VII after which I couldn’t see anything and I had to drop out of school.”

He visited the hospitals in Thimphu, Gelephu and Zhemgang but nothing helped. “The doctors in Thimphu said that there was no cure to this condition, as the veins in my eyes were all dried up. Similar was the condition in the rest of my siblings.”

Namgay said that every year the condition of his eyes deteriorates. “There was a time when I used to see things partially by placing them near my eyes. It’s slowly fading now,” he said. “I’m also starting to forget how this village used to look. I’m sure it has changed a lot today.”

Namgay’s mother, Lekimo, said that they were helpless when the children, one after another, started to lose their vision. “Thinking it was some sorcery, we conducted several rituals – major and minor, but nothing helped.”

She said that she worries about the future of her children. “For now we have been managing but what would happen when we’re are gone. I can’t sleep at night.”

Of the five siblings, the youngest brother died a few years ago in an accident at worksite in Samdrupjongkhar.

The eldest and second youngest sisters have left with their husbands. Namgay and Rinchen, along with their parents and Rinchen’s husband and daughter, live together in a temporary structure in Tsangtsiri.

The family owns some land about 3kms away from the house.

To sustain the family, Namgay said that the father grows vegetable and crops. “When they die, the land would also be gone. The future doesn’t look promising for us just like our present,” he said. “I wish someone would help us.”

Meanwhile, Rinchen and her husband are worried that their daughter could also suffer a similar fate and lose her vision.

“When we were young, even we could see properly. It all happened when we grew up,” Rinchen said. “I pray this does not happen to my daughter.”