Our first target village happens to also be the most remote: a small village of a few hundred accessible only by private van. We wind our way up the side of a mountain, passing by a half-constructed railway.
It’s a length of the new Nan’ning-Guangzhou rail line. “Ever since they constructed this, the road to the village has been in shambles,” the driver says to us as we bump along. The villagers have not received any compensation. And the train doesn’t have a stop here.
After half an hour, we arrive in Dong’keng Village, nestled in between a few mountains. We make our way up to the Village Committee office, because the village health station is too small to screen a large number of villagers.
The VHW hasn’t done much advertising beforehand, but luckily we came on xuri (“market day”). Xuri for a village of this size only means a gathering of ten or so villagers, but it’s enough for us as we start setting up a stand. “Bak nei zhang,” an elderly man reads as he looks at the title of our poster.
We also enlist the help of the local meat seller, who agrees to spread the word about our activities.
It’s a small village but we have a turnout of more than 20 by the time the morning is over. And with a referral rate higher than 60%, it’s clear that this village hasn’t seen many screening activities before.
In the afternoon, a teammate Qianju and I decide to go door-to-door to raise awareness. The very first house we stop by, the woman inside ushers us in before asking, “Do you screen little kids?”
That’s how I meet “little Zhang”.
Little Zhang has significant strabismus, more commonly known as “cross-eye”. In young individuals, strabismus can result in a reliance on one eye at the expense of the other, leading to amblyopia, an eye decrease of vision caused by vision deprivation during the critical period of early vision development. Amblyopia affects approximately 2% of the general population. If caught early, it can be treated with patching, eyeglasses, or in advanced cases, surgery. The critical period for development of 20/20 vision has been shown to occur from birth to age 3-5 years; after this, recovery from amblyopia may only be partial.
Little Zhang just turned 5.
I leave with a phone number and a hand-drawn picture. Later that afternoon I call Dr. Wang at the ZOC and tell him the situation. “Tell them to bring her here as soon as possible,” he tells me as soon as I mention her age.
“Can I give them your contact number?” I ask. In a country as big as China, often the only way to get somewhere is to rely on that age-old guanxi.
“Sure, we can help them register once they get to the hospital,” he agrees. That simple statement implies that this family just saved a day of waiting in the packed ZOC waiting hall.
I receive a text from an unknown number a few days later, after I’ve already returned to Guangzhou for the weekend:
(Hello, although we didn’t ask your name, but your enthusiasm and sense of social service is truly admirable, I represent Dong’keng Village in wishing you health and future success. Sincerely, Zhang Xiyi…)