Three Minute Squiz With… Ali Gripper

Ali Gripper is an Aussie journalist whose bookThe Barefoot Surgeon, tells the story of Nepalese ophthalmologist Dr Sanduk Ruit who trained under Aussie hero, Professor Fred Hollows. A Sydneysider, Gripper spent three years working closely with Ruit to capture his story. Here, she shares her experience with the Three Minute Squiz.

How and where do you Squiz?
I Squiz on my iPad in my kitchen enjoying breakfast with my son.

Your book The Barefoot Surgeon is released today congratulations. Give us the elevator pitch: who and what is it about?
It’s about a boy from a Himalayan village, Sanduk Ruit, who went on to become a medical giant of Asia by restoring sight to more than 130,000 people, most of them the poorest in the world. Ruit was Fred Hollows’s protege, but he has not only continued carrying out their shared vision – he is now training thousands of surgeons from the developing world in the unique, stitch-free cataract surgery that he has perfected. His mission is to wipe out avoidable blindness throughout the world.

There are some incredible doctors and health workers doing incredible things for people in poverty-stricken and war-torn areas. What makes Dr Sanduk Ruit special?
I was blown away by the lengths Dr Ruit goes to get to his patients. He has flown into North Korea, crossed mountains in Mustang on horseback, waded across rivers, operated with altitude sickness on the roof of the world in Tibet, and even ridden on the top of buses to get to his patients. He is also what one of his colleagues describes as a “monomaniac”; he has stuck to giving as many people as possible the gift of sight for more than 30 years and has not wavered from the task. He’s just kept plugging away and never gave up, no matter what obstacles he faced. He is dogged.

How did you come across him and what drove you to capture his story?
I’d interviewed Dr Ruit in 2000 for the Sydney Morning Herald and then in 2014 when I was working for The Fred Hollows Foundation in Kathmandu, we re-met each other and he asked very sweetly in his Nepalese way if I’d be interested in writing his life story. I was compelled to tell his story because it is about a man who had very little in life – he had no money, no connections, and his village didn’t even have a school – and yet he went on to live such a big life and help so many people. He’s one of the most remarkable men I’ve ever met.

You no doubt saw people and communities at their best and worst. Is there cause for optimism?
Yes, what I witnessed at Dr Ruit’s eye camps was that a small group of dedicated, well-motivated people can make a huge difference to the quality of life of countless.

The endorsements for your book are stellar. Please tell us you got to talk to Richard Gere
Richard Gere is a fan of Dr Ruit’s – Ruit had his PA’s contact details on his iPhone and we went from there…

What was the first album you ever bought?
ABBA Arrival.

Who is your favourite writer? And which of their works do you hold especially dear?
Claire Tomalin. I’m in awe of her biographies of Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Samuel Pepys and Mary Wollstonecraft. She’s the high priestess of the art of biography.

Name four people – living or dead – you’d kill to sit down to dinner with.
William Shakespeare. Charles Dickens. The Dalai Lama. Barack Obama.

What’s your go-to karaoke song?
Anything by Ella Fitzgerald.

What’s your guilty TV-watching secret?
Not so guilty – hooked on The Fourth Estate, 100 days inside the New York Times, on SBS.

What skill or talent do you not have but wish you did?
To give people joy by playing the piano.

Which historical figure do you most identify with?
Jane Austen.

What do you consider the most overrated virtue?

What would you say is the most overlooked news story of today?
The daily life of newly arrived asylum seekers in Sydney.

*Buy these books using the Booktopia links and The Squiz will receive a little commission.

If you sign 10 people up to The Squiz in June you will receive an Allen & Unwin book pack valued at $120, which includes a copy of The Barefoot Surgeon. Details here.

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