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Rough Cut
Tibet: Eye Camp
Restoring vision at the top of the world
 

 

Isaac Solotaroff

New York-based producer Isaac Solotaroff has produced a number of broadcast and theatrical documentaries. Eye Camp was adapted from his feature-length documentary Visioning Tibet, which has screened in over 30 international film festivals since 2005 and is currently being presented on PBS stations around the country through American Public Television. He is presently in production on a feature-length documentary about Dr. Naif Al-Mutawa and his comic book The 99.

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Length: 14:00

"Cataracts are the leading cause of blindness in the world," explains reporter Isaac Solotaroff in this week's Rough Cut, filmed on the stunning high plains of Tibet.

In a country where much of the population lives at elevations of 15,000 feet, where solar radiation poses a high risk for cataracts, the disease has become an epidemic. Many of those afflicted with cataracts come from the poorest communities -- nomadic herders who have limited access to healthcare and face inevitable blindness without surgery.

But since 1995, an enterprising American ophthalmologist, Dr. Marc Lieberman, has been traveling to Tibet twice a year to run mobile eye camps.

Tibet, eye test

Dr. Lieberman examines a patient at a clinic in rural Tibet.

A deeply spiritual man, Lieberman was inspired by the Dalai Lama to pursue his medical mission. Although his work is often made difficult by the political tensions of Tibetan life under Chinese rule, the primary goal of his nonprofit Tibet Vision Project is to train the Tibetan medical community to do the cataract surgeries themselves. (You can read more about Lieberman's experiences in Tibet in his interview.)

Filmmaker Isaac Solotaroff, who produced the recent FRONTLINE/World broadcast story about the controversial Arab comic book The 99, began documenting Lieberman's work in 2000. His feature-length documentary "Visioning Tibet" has been playing in film festivals since 2005. In his Rough Cut version for us, Solotaroff updates his film, focusing on one of Lieberman's trips to a remote clinic.

Accompanied by his colleague Dr. Melvyn "Yogi" Bert, Lieberman makes the familiar but arduous journey from San Francisco to Kathmandu, then on to Lhasa in Tibet, where they meet up with other medical practitioners. "It takes us five days to get to Lhasa," Lieberman explains, with the added stress of transporting medical supplies. And that's just the start. Next comes two days on the road in the back of a four-wheel drive, navigating potholes and broken bridges to reach the northern Tibet town of Sok Xian, where the weeklong eye camp will commence.

With advance news of the team's arrival, hundreds of Tibetans have descended on the town, hoping to be treated. One elderly herder named Lhasang, has camped there for a week with his entire family.

"My four children," he says, pointing them out one by one, "They are great! I am very unhappy when I can't see them and very excited about tomorrow."

But Lieberman's goodwill mission gets off to a rocky start. Since his last visit, the new medical building earmarked for surgeries has been turned into an impromptu hotel for local medical staff and the facilities have been neglected.

"The operating room looks like something out of a penal colony on Devil's Island," Lieberman tells Solotaroff, and threatens to head straight back to Lhasa.

Eventually, the Chinese and Tibetan officials clear the way for Lieberman to deliver the quality medical care he insists on for his impoverished patients. His team screens 300 patients and finds that about a third can be helped by cataract surgery. Working continual 14-hour shifts, American and Tibetan surgeons will restore the vision of 108 people before the week is out. They've treated thousands of patients since the eye camps started more than a decade ago.

Solotaroff's journey with the doctors captures many delightful moments, particularly among the Tibetan families who arrive at the camp full of anticipation and filled with gratitude when the doctors restore their sight.

"May you live for a thousand years!" declares one man as the camp is wrapping up and he's given a flashy new pair of sunglasses to protect his reclaimed vision. The Western doctors return the adulation by honoring the Tibetans who work alongside them. "Her skills are superb," Lieberman says congratulating Dr. Zheng Gui Ying, one of his proteges. "She can now do a perfect cataract operation in 15 minutes. And she trains other surgeons."

Lieberman's aim, after all, is to ultimately work himself out of a job.

-- Jackie Bennion

Tibet: Eye Camp is made possible by the Skoll Foundation through a grant to the PBS Foundation.

Skoll FoundationPBS Foundation

REACTIONS

Kim Gutschow - Williamstown, MA
Great work, Dr. Lieberman. Having worked just across the far western border of Tibet in the Indian Himalayan region of Zangskar, among Tibetan Buddhists---I have seen what a life-changing operation the cataract surgery can be. One only hopes that the Indian and Tibetan medical authorities are goaded into providing these services themselves one day.

(anonymous)
At a time when nothing seems to matter, yet there is hope for humanity. "Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away."

Dawa Ngodup - Toronto, Ontario
Good job Frontline...features like these keep me coming back for more!

(anonymous)
Dr. Marc, an angel of our modern times and a great example of the incredible capacity that Americans have when it comes to helping the other.

Bill Shelburn - Aiken, South Carolina
A truly inspiring story. There is no greater gift that you can provide to another person than the ability to see. I suffer from partial vision impairment myself due to glaucoma and I understand how grateful the Tibetans must be. Dr. Lieberman has touched many lives.

Traci Finlay - oakboro, NC
I am very active in the Tibetan freedom movement and the teachings of HH Dalai Lama. I am so overjoyed when something wonderful like the eye camp and the good doctor happens to these beautiful,loving,non-violent people. Please feature more on this culture and its people, they deserve it!

Basang Tsering - Oxford, UK
Thank you Dr. Lieberman, it is a great work. I wish many more people will follow your step to make best of their knowledge to help the people in difficult.

(anonymous)
Thank you Dr Lieberman, You are indeed an inspiration.

tenzin nyandak - brookyln, ny
Thukje Che Dr. Lieberman! Your initiative really inspired me to help underprivileged ones around the world. I want to express my deepest respect and gratitude to you and your team. Thukje Che!

toronto, on
Thank you a million times, Dr. Lieberman and Skoll Foundation. Your works are the Buddha's message in action.

Tenzin Choephel - Toronto, Ontario
Inspiring story! You are a true compassion person who had courage to travel in remote places like Tibet. Many thanks.

Caen, France
Dr Marc & son Equipe Merci pour vous avez fait en tibet pour sauver la vie des gens qui ont des problm des yeux. Je me suis touch votre travail. Votre compassion est enorme. Je vous remerci de mon fond du coeur. Bravo pour votre travail

London, U.K
If anyone is earning good karma then this wonderful doctor and his team have surely deserved it.

Tenzin=20 Thardoe - brussel, belgium
First of all,i would like to say thanks to Dr Lieberman and team for their effort to help Tibetan in Tibet. This video is really touching and i really appreciate Frontline for that.
Bodgyalo... and May Peace be always with tibetan.

Ray Hu - Hong Kong, China
First, Tibet is not a country, but an autonomous region o= China. Second, Dr. Zheng Gui Ying is not a Tibetan, but a Han Chinese name.

(anonymous)
My sincere thanks goes to Dr Lieberman for his great work in Tibet.
Being Tibetan from Tibet i am aware what kind of health problems are faced by the Tibetans. hence Dr Lieberman's work is a bless for Tibetans.thank you so much

(anonymous)
dear Dr Lieberman,thanks so much for the great work. i am sure your work is contributing a lot to the Tibetan people who do not have the basic health care facility in remote areas of Tibet. please continue the great job and once again thank you so much

Sonam Lama - Bronx, NY
Respected Dr. Marc and all of co-workers- Thank you so much for your great job in Tibet. We Tibetans are very happy for that great job,they really need more eye and dental camps. God bless you all. Thanks again by Sonam

Sonam Lama - Bronx, New York
Respected Dr. Marc and all of co-workers Thank you so much for your great job in Tibet we tibetan are very happy for that great job,they really need more often eye and dental camp. God. bless you all. thanks again by sonam

john smith - nyc, queen
thank you very much from deep of my heart tibet eye project. this video makes me cry, wish the facilities given by TEP tibet eye project fully given to tibetans by chinese local authorities. Dr you came to tibetans like buddha; always appericated

Ngawang Choedon - New Dehi, India
I have this news first time that too in a Fronline. WowoWI am very touched! Thank you Dr. Lieberman. Really all Tibetan people's prayers are with you for your great humanitarian work and your selfless work for the suffering people. From the bottom of my heart I am very thankful to you. Wowo Wonderful!!

jampa kelsang - barcelona, catalunya
There are very few people in this world who works for others selflessly. Dr.Lieberman is one among them. I thank you on behalf of all the tibetan people. That is true compassion. Keep up the good work. God bless you.

Ngawang Rigdol - Bangalore, Karnataka
Dr. Lieberman and entire staff of Frontline / World wish you success and a more fruitful future and may all of your wishes will be fulfilled.

Dalai Lama - Lhasa, China
Good deed! One American doctor's good deed for a week brings honor and friendship to ALL American people that the Chinese and Tibetan patients will be grateful for years to come, or only until they learn that American military might tries to inflict wounds on Chinese fishermen in the South China Sea in Chinese Territory where they don't even belong.
I hope China can help Americans too in good spirit, probably not using western medicine, but financially or spiritually.

delhi, New Delhi
Thank you for showing humanity and being selfless.

Namgyal Dolma - Astoria, NY
Thank you!!

Da lha - toronto, ontario
All I can say is that I am really appreciated of your efforts treating and curing my innocent people like your own ones. As we know, there are more suffering people like them so that I hope there will be more supports to get indeed equipment and doctors to help and operate them sincerely. What you've done for us could be admired. Thanks for your dedication. Dr. Lieberman.

philadelphia, PA
I am an ordinary Tibetan and, boy am I glad to have seen this film as you went to Tibet and help my people,you're a special person to our poor nation. I want to say, thank you very much for your help, not only Tibetan for this world. God bless you and your team.

woodside, NY
Tibet Eye Camp is the greatest admiration from the tibetan people. It's remarkable job that one can appreciated and never forget in their life. I heard this from my parents who lives in Tibet. I never see my parents since I was 9 years and fews year ago I had have contact with my parents and got phone number by chance, and after long period of our silence I called them, asked how they were doing, my father said he could not see properly and was very scared that he is getting blind so I asked him, is there anyone who can help his eye sight, all he said was there is Tibet eye camp coming after every two or three years, since he lives in remote village he doesn't have money to go
there so I send some money and next year thank God for Tibet Eye camp. They helped him and he is so happy and overjoyed. He truly admired the doctor and the memebers of Tibet Eye Camp.They are still thousand more waiting for you to come again so keep your heads up and heart felt thanks to Doctor Lieberman.

Tsering Yangzom - Fridley, MN
Wonderful work, Dr.Lieberman. I am speechless when I saw your video. Woh!! Good job and thank you very much for everything you did for our Tibetan people. I visited Tibet in 2006 and in my motherland city there is no doctor and people are dying without any proper treatment. I appreciated and wish other surgeons and doctors could have a same kind of thought and visit to remote Tibetan places where
they are dying without any medication and proper treatment.Thank you once again Dr Lieberman and his team group. God bless you.

Toronto, Ontario
Hello Dr. Lieberman -
I am flabbergasted by reading the wonderful work you do by giving my Tibetans fellows the vision in their life. Please keep helping them. Thanks so much and I am grateful for your kindness on behalf of every Tibetan those have been blessed by your divine work. Thanks again.

Kaushik Murali - Bangalore, Karnataka, India
Wonderful work indeed. On behalf of our organization here in India (www.sankaraeye.com) we would love to associate with you for any
future surgical eye expeditions.

tsewang paljor - woodside, NY
Sir - you are doing a great job, please keep it up.

tse dawa - wood side, NY
I m verry happy to watch this video.thanks to Dr. Lieberman, and all other doctors, Special thanks to Dr. Lieberman. You are great. God bless you and all your team.

SF, CA
Tibet belongs to China. Why divid China and Tibet here? Tibet is a province of China!!!

(anonymous)
Inspiring story! This video, I believe, really captures and highlights the corrupted medical system in underserved places in China! Shame on them!

Ghorgo Ghorgo - Astoria, New York
Tibet: Eye Camp is absolutely wonderful giving hope and life to our people in Tibet. I am highly grateful to you all. Thank you so much. your works are compassion in action. Thank you once again for taking care of our dear people of Tibet.

Kim Gutschow - Williamstown, MA
Great work Dr. Lieberman. Having worked just across the far western border of Tibet in the Indian Himalayan region of Zangskar, among Tibetan Buddhists---I have seen what a life-changing operation the cataract surgery can be. One only hopes that the Indian and Tibetan medical authorities are goaded into providing these services themselves one day.

Kevin Denny, M.D. - San Francisco, CA
The story beautifully captures the joys of restoring sight to people profoundly blind. It also shows how individuals can transform a situation, particularly if they're savvy and properly intentioned like these doctors. I'm proud to call them colleagues.

Joyce McHugh - La Jolla, CA
I was glad when our Residency Director, Dr Leah Levi, shared this with our residents and me. What a beautiful people the Tibetans are. Very inspiring! Angels are being sent to you, I know it!

victor lieberman - ann arbor, michigan
I could not be more proud of my brother, whose selflessness represents the common denominator of all the world's great religions.

Laura Haskell - E. Falmouth, Massachusetts
Thank you Frontline - This is personal for 3 reasons: I know Dr. Lieberman's brother who is my spiritual leader; I myself have very, very poor vision which is corrected; and I have visited Tibet in 2001; fallen in love with the country and the people. Applause for Dr. Lieberman, who has a generous heart and a loving soul.

Jamal - LA, CA
Very interesting work. The doctor should consider an interview on the Colbert Report.

Falmouth, MA
Dr. Lieberman, i have been a great admirer of your work ever since you visited our congregation in Falmouth.

Lois Morse - Mashpee, MA 02649
Dr. Lieberman comes from a family that continues to dedicate itself to helping its fellow humans. His brother is our rabbi - and is also a humanitarian and social activist. Kudos to Dr. Marc from one whose propensity for altitude sickness enhances her admiration for him.

adam - san francisco, ca
What an inspiring story! Thanks for this, Frontline World. My congratulations to the good doctor.