The Gift of Sight
Today the hotel rooms are better and the mission has grown. This year six optometrists, two opticians, eight optometry students, and several translators made the trip. Sixty four boxes of supplies -- 3,000 pairs of donated glasses, 3,000 sunglasses, baseball caps, toys, and clothes among them -- were shipped ahead of the team's arrival. Optometrist Brian Lynch supplied about 1,000 pairs of reading glasses, and optician Mareshah Lynch brought more than 1,100 eyeglass cases hand sewn by a local quilting guild in Newport, Maine. Dr. Quinn's 18-year-old daughter, Olivia, came along to volunteer in the makeshift dispensary. Sometimes it takes a village to help a village.
But the growing resources can hardly match the desperate need in Nicaragua. At this year's clinic hundreds of people heard about the "clinico gratis" (free clinic) and traveled long distances.
Enrique Ortiz Portoy and his wife, Juana Gonzalez, poor farmers, journeyed by boat, bus, and taxi to get an eye exam. As parents of six children, three of whom have died, the two have never been able to afford any type of medical care. After standing on line for seven hours, Enrique, 47, learns he needs bifocals, while Juana, 46, receives reading glasses and eyedrops. Since they work outside in the fields, they also take home sunglasses to protect their eyes from the equatorial sun.
Francisco Rillos, 15, is extremely nearsighted. His life has been miserable since he broke his only pair of glasses. After the doctors give him a new pair, he runs off to ride his bicycle for the first time in months. A 4-year-old with strabismus (crossed eyes) needs special glasses to correct the problem; optician Dottie Byus will have a customized pair made in the United States. Ileana Cano Cerdo, the housewife who was mystified by "?Que mejor, uno o dos?" needs glaucoma medicine. Without it she will slowly go blind.
Cases like these remind the team of the true meaning of their mission. "You're not just giving people an eye exam or a pair of glasses," Dr. Blondin says to the optometry students in the group. "In many cases you are saving or restoring their sight." For the Nicaraguan people, a visit from VOSH volunteers can ultimately provide the opportunity to learn to read, get a job, and take better care of themselves and their family.
"The patients are so gracious and thankful for any help we provide," says Dr. Quinn, who adds that the staff feels fortunate as well. "You gain an appreciation for your life. If everyone did their own little bit to help -- and looked upon the world not as us and them but as we -- there would be so much more that we could do."
This month's Do-Good Challenge: Your local Lions Club collects pairs of used -- but usable -- eyeglasses, so visit LHJ.com/dogood to learn more and find a drop-off site near you. Then sign up for our easy weekly challenges to do even more good!
Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, June 2009.