Close your eyes, the old man says, and imagine living in that world of darkness every day of your life.

Wearing dark sunglasses and holding onto a walking stick, Kaltabau Kiri, 71, is led into a packed-out waiting area by a young boy.

A "welkam'' sign hangs just above the hordes of people who have come to be seen at the newly opened Vanuatu National Eye Centre, in Port Vila, funded by The Fred Hollows Foundation.

Despite the scorching heat this Friday morning, the place is full of men, women and children who fill up the whole front of the clinic and down a few outside corridors.

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I put my hand out towards Kiri, offering a handshake. After several moments, people start calling out to him in Bislama, the local language.

He jolts and grabs at the space in front of him, before catching my hand. As he does so, his sunglasses drop slightly and there is a glimpse of his milky-coloured eyes.

He is completely blind.

The young boy he arrives with is 11-year-old grandson David, who effectively acts as his papa's eyes.

David Kiri, 11, helps his grandfather, 71-year-old Kaltabau Kiri, after their visit to the new Port Vila National Eye Centre in Vanuatu. Photo / Dean Purcell
David Kiri, 11, helps his grandfather, 71-year-old Kaltabau Kiri, after their visit to the new Port Vila National Eye Centre in Vanuatu. Photo / Dean Purcell

"David helps me a lot - and my daughter, she looks after me. My wife has died,'' Kiri says sadly.

He talks of the days of being a farmer and long days in the village when he would work in his plantation. It was hard, gruelling work but that was life and he had his independence.

After his "red eyes'' gave up on him - the left eye losing sight in 2014 and the right two years later - he lost it all, he says.

He describes his world as a dark one and when asked what it is like to live in such a world, he suddenly gets emotional.

"Now this is normal life,'' he says, his jaw wobbling.

"I just don't want to live in this world. I'm just wasting time - I don't see anything good."

However, Vanuatu's first ever eye doctor, Dr Johnson Kasso, does see something good for Kiri.

After examining the elderly man's eyes, it is found both have cornea ulcers; developed over time due to various factors - including diabetes and the lack of treatment.

The old man admits he stopped taking treatment, in the form of eye drops, at the time because he thought it was making things worse.

Kaltabau Kiri, 71, has his eyes checked at the new eye clinic in Port Vila, Vanuatu. Photo / Dean Purcell
Kaltabau Kiri, 71, has his eyes checked at the new eye clinic in Port Vila, Vanuatu. Photo / Dean Purcell

Kiri jokes that it was probably the eye drops that made him go blind.

Later, however, he tells the doctor the same thing - this time, without a laugh.

Dr Kasso says it is something some locals, particularly elderly ni-Vanuatu, sometimes believe - that Western medicine is not the answer.

Today, however, the good news is that Kiri's left eye offers a glimmer of hope.

Dr Kasso says they will be able to create a bigger iris in that eye, so Kiri can see through it.

"We can do that so he can navigate himself around the house.''

The idea of being able to see - even slightly - is a wonderful prospect for Kiri, whose whole body language changes as he smiles and almost skips out of the clinic with grandson David after being given the good news.

They leave just as they arrived - young David guiding his granddad carefully and warning him of the various obstacles just ahead.

The hope is that grandpa Kaltabau will soon be able to see those for himself.

To donate to The Fred Hollows Foundation, visit their website: The Fred Hollows.