“Long live the doctors who cared for us… they brought a new light to my eyes!”
Asya Galstyan’s life has never been easy. Born to two orphans who escaped the Armenian Genocide, Asya was raised in the city of Gyumri in Armenia. In 1988, a devastating earthquake shook the region and Asya’s home was destroyed. Her family became homeless.
For the next 20 years, Asya and her family lived in a metal container, or a “domik,” which was meant to provide temporary relief for those who had lost their homes in the quake. During this time, job opportunities in the region were also bleak. There were no factories to work in and no other jobs available either. When Asya’s husband passed away, she knew she had to think of something to support herself.
Asya began sewing as a source of income and continues to do so until today. Making oven mitts and washcloths with various colorful fabrics, Asya sells these products to her neighbors and passersby. This is her only income and though the money is not much, it is enough for her to live on.
In the last few years, however, Asya noticed that something was wrong with her sight. She could not sew as well or do other things around the house. One day, she didn’t see some ice that was on the floor and slipped and fell, breaking her arm. This went on for three years. In that time, Asya was forced to stop sewing. The only income she relied on to survive was now gone.
“I lost the light in my eyes,” Asya said. Asya was in desperate need of eye surgery to restore her sight and get her life back. But at the time there were no eye clinics near her and traveling to Armenia’s capital, Yerevan, for care was not an option for her due to the cost.
“There is no way I can go to Yerevan. It’s ridiculous to even think about,” Asya said. “There was no way I could pay for that trip even if it meant going completely blind.”
Asya was left feeling hopeless with no feasible options to save her sight. Then, she heard that there would be a new, state-of-the-art eye center opening up soon in her town of Gyumri.
Launched in 2015, our Five-for-Five initiative was established to build five Regional Eye Centers throughout Armenia for $5 million in five years. These cutting-edge centers – outfitted to provide the same level of care available in Armenia’s capital – would be opened in regions throughout Armenia where they were needed most based on population and need of care.
The John Ohannes Khachigian AECP Regional Eye Center was opened in Gyumri in 2018. Shortly after, Asya was able to receive the cataract surgery she desperately needed at this new clinic free of charge.
“After the surgery, my sight came back,” Asya said. “Now that I can see I’m able to sew again. I’m 78 and I can sew without glasses!”
Best yet, Asya is most happy that she’s regained her independence.
“It is so gratifying not to rely on anyone else,” she says. “I can take care of myself. I can do anything now and do it without fear.”
The Armenian EyeCare Project has been able to complete our Five-for-Five initiative, developing five Regional Eye Centers throughout Armenia in five years (2015-2020.) With Regional Eye Centers located in Ijevan (Tavush province); Spitak (Lori province); Kapan (Syunik province); Gyumri (Shirak province) and Yeghegnadzor (Vayots Dzor province), the Armenian EyeCare Project and our physicians have been able to perform over 10,000 eye exams and nearly 5,000 sight-saving surgeries at these new regional centers.
Asya is just one of these success stories and she is beyond grateful to have had the opportunity to get her sight saved.
“Long live the doctors who cared for us, the elderly,” she says. “I’m extremely grateful and happy that the doctors brought a new light to my eyes. I can see clearly now and I can go on with my life.”
Asya is back to sewing and supporting herself once more thanks to her restored sight.