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John Dau Foundation cures blindness in South Sudan

John Dau, Founder of the John Dau Foundation, speaks at a foundation fundraiser at the Skaneateles Country Club on Sept. 29.

John Dau, Founder of the John Dau Foundation, speaks at a foundation fundraiser at the Skaneateles Country Club on Sept. 29. Joe Genco

In America most people don’t have to worry about problems such as measles, malaria, blindness or malnutrition. People in places like South Sudan aren’t so fortunate.

About 200 people gathered at the Skaneateles Country Club on Sept. 29 to be inspired by the story of the work done at the Duk medical clinic in South Sudan.

The event, a fundraiser for the John Dau Foundation, included a screening of the documentary “Duk Country.”

The film follows several ophthalmologists as they travel to the Duk clinic in Duk County of South Sudan to perform surgeries for people who have lost their vision to either cataracts or trachoma.

The doctors perform surgeries and restore sight to 288 people over the course of their one-week stay.

At one point in the film Dau, on screen, breaks down after seeing a woman singing and dancing after having her eyesight restored. The woman had traveled two days to get to the clinic with the assistance of her young granddaughter, her only other remaining family member.

Much of the South Sudanese population suffers from treatable and preventable ailments due to lack of proper nutrition, medical care and vaccinations. The film described going blind as a “death sentence” and stated that of the 34 million blind people in the world about 80 percent of the cases are preventable or treatable.

South Sudan, a recently established nation, has been embattled by inter-tribal violence, according to the film. Rival tribes will attack each other killing women and children, herds of cattle and burning down villages. The national police and United Nations peace-keeping forces can do little to contain these outbursts of violence and as a result the local people struggle to grow enough food to survive and are afraid of traveling.

Dau was originally one of the “Lost Boys of Sudan,” a group of orphaned young men who were forced to make a mass exodus out of Sudan to avoid death during the civil war of the 1980s. After escaping to Etheopia he was able to relocate to Syracuse in 2001 through the help of international AIDS organizations. Since then he has earned a college education and started the foundation to help his people.

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