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Light and life -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

Light and life

Brothers Amani and Vincent Yao pose proudly with family members for a photo in front of their Habitat house in Beriaboukro, Cote d’Ivoire.
Photo by Phillip Jordan

Habitat homes and vocational training open new possibilities for the visually impaired in Cote d’Ivoire
By Phillip Jordan


Bites from blackflies along Cote d’Ivoire’s Bandama River can cause river blindness. Still, the river itself is an important part of life, useful for fishing, traveling and cooling off on hot summer days. Photo by Chris Mattle


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Even with moonlight breaking through crumbling mud walls and a shredded scrap-tin roof, Amani Yao couldn’t see the rodents that scurried across his dirt floor each evening. He didn’t see the malaria-spreading mosquitoes either, before they descended to bite.

The 54-year-old Ivorian has been blind since 2004, the result of too many bites from the blackflies that swarm the banks of the nearby Bandama River. Without vaccination, an accumulation of bites from infected flies over a long period can lead to a parasitic infection.

Doctors call the resulting condition onchocerciasis — river blindness. People in Amani’s village of Beriaboukro call it man konin — scratching.

“He was itching all the time,” Vincent Yao said of his brother. “He would say, ‘My eyes are paining me.’ But I couldn’t do anything because I didn’t know what happened.”

More than 100 of the town’s 1,500 residents have watched their vision slowly disappear because of the disease. But five years ago, thanks to Habitat Cote d’Ivoire’s “Healthy Homes” initiative, light returned to Amani’s life.

That’s when Amani, Vincent and five other relatives moved out of the darkness of a cramped, windowless home and into a house with a concrete floor, sun-soaked windows and secure doors. To Amani, it’s more than a safe, comfortable place to sleep at night.

“I may be blind,” Amani says, “but I can tell when there’s light. I can feel the difference in me. I was frustrated in the old house, but I feel at ease here. I can feel the warmth. I feel the glow.”

“Healthy Homes” is part of Habitat Cote d’Ivoire’s larger Orphans and Vulnerable Groups program, which builds subsidized housing for orphans, leprosy patients, disabled adults and other people in particular need. As part of Habitat’s holistic response here, advocacy efforts have encouraged the government to more regularly provide pills that can easily and effectively inoculate residents against the blinding effects of the Bandama’s blackflies.