31. Maria, El Salvador 1999

Maria was doing chores in her yard in El Savador while her granddaughter played by her side. Suddenly the toddler wandered over to newly dug well – and toppled into it. Maria ran to the rim and peered down the 12- metre shaft.

Maria lowered herself into the well her little granddaughter had fallen down. She tried to dig her fingers into the small handholds, but she lost her grip and plummeted downward. Her leg broke as she hit the bottom of the well.

Miraculously, she landed beside Bianca who was cold and muddy, but unharmed. Neighbours rescued the duo, but Maria’s leg became infected and was amputated three months later. A year later, in 2000, Maria lost her hearing. Then another blow – the grandmother lost her sight to cataracts.

Blind and deaf, Maria spent most of her time in bed as she struggled to get around on her one leg. She cried a lot.

Maria’s daughter heard the Mercy Ship Caribbean Mercy was in El Salvador providing free eye surgery. So, on screening day Maria lined up with hundreds of others and she was filled with a new emotion – hope.

The day after her surgery, Maria’s eye patches were removed and she smiled broadly. She could see her family for the first time in years. Six days later she was back in line – this time at the Mercy Ships hearing clinic. The specialist fitted a hearing aid, but Maria cried ‘I can’t hear! I can’t hear anything!’ Everyone was devastated. It seemed the hearing damaged 19 years earlier was beyond repair.

Kindly Maria was led to another room where a crew member spoke to her and her family. Then Maria suddenly turned and interrupted the conversation. The family smothered each other with teary hugs as Maria’s daughter cried, ‘She CAN hear!’

Maria had been released from her prison of silence and darkness.