Paran is a small community that rests at the foothills of the Andes in Lima, Peru. It is an isolated little area surrounded by mountains and home to only 300 people, and one in eight of those people are blind.
The unusual rate of blindness in Paran was discovered about two years ago when a mining company sent a team of doctors to the area as an outreach effort. Most of the Paranos had never visited a doctor before then, and therefore had no one to report the condition to although they understood it was abnormal.
The blind and their families were hoping for treatment or glasses to cure the affliction but they were given an even more complicated prognosis. Doctors found that the condition was caused by a genetic mutation in the X chromosome. This means that women can carry it, but men are more likely to express symptoms.
The condition works by knocking out cells in the retina like pixels in a screen. Victims experience blurriness in their vision that gradually worsens until all sight is lost. Onset takes place between the ages of 10 and 40 and the ability to see at night is lost early on.
While the discovery of the disease, named retinitis pigmentosa, was a breakthrough for the people of Paran whose ancestors have dealt with the condition for over a hundred years, many feel that they were given life-changing information and then abandoned.
The discovery of the disease two years ago brought a lot of attention to the area by doctors and journalists alike. When the doctors left and Paran became yesterday’s news, the people were left without a cure and a bad reputation. What was once known as a village with sweet peaches became the town of the blind.
Even to this day the people of Paran carry a stigma and are treated as outcasts by the surrounding areas. They are unwanted out of fear of contaminating other populations and told to move far away if they choose to leave their community. The women of Paran are avoided as spouses out of fear they may pass the disease onto their children.
However, despite what may seem like bleak circumstances, the Paranos persist with amazing vigor. With no government assistance or facilities fit to accommodate blindness, the men in the area prepare for a life of darkness before total blindness sets in. People like Lorenzo, an elderly man with nobody to care for him, make the two-hour trek up and down the rocky hills they live on to the village center every day on their own.
Another man named Agapito Mateo and his two brothers are all blind. Agapito is a pastor and a farmer who never stopped tending to his peaches after losing his sight. He thanks God for his ability to continue working but insists that those less fortunate need government assistance. Meanwhile, people like Agapito work to uphold the reputation that Paran may be home to a good number of blind men, but they also grow really sweet peaches.
– Edward Heinrich