Eye Care International! Here is a brief synopsis of the program written by Paul Holland that you can also find on their website at http://www.eyecareint.org.
"EyeCare International provides vision care to the under served population of El Salvador. It was founded by Dr. William Brinker in 1995 to bring ophthalmology, optometry, and optical services to areas of El Salvador outside of metropolitan centers. Typically, 5,000-7,000 patients travel to the annual two-week clinic to have their vision checked. They may receive eyeglasses or undergo surgery for cataracts or pterygium removal. Approximately 20 artificial eyes are fitted each year. Each patient is asked to donate one dollar (if they can afford it). However, there are no fees for eyeglasses, surgery, or medications.
Each year a group of 40-50 volunteers from the United States and Canada pay for their room and board and airfare to spend two weeks caring for Salvadorans who might have no other opportunity to receive vision care. Volunteers include not only eye care professionals, but others with varied backgrounds who want to help the under served."
On February 13, 14, and 15 I had the wonderful opportunity to help with this years campaign in Santa Rosa de Lima. The other Peace Corps volunteers and myself helped by acting as translators for the various sectors of the event including: filling out their paperwork, before, during, and after surgeries, throughout the process of taking an eye exam, fitting them for glasses, or during the process of getting fitted for a artificial eye. I, myself, was able to translate for tons of patients getting glasses, taking eye exams, and one man who was getting fitting for an artificial eye. Each and every experience with every individual was so incredibly rewarding. I can't explain the feeling you get when you put glasses on someone for the first time. Their face lights up, their eyes get wide, and their smile reaches from ear to ear. It a precious human experience to share that moment with them. And then they say something like, "Wow. I can see you. You are just so beautiful." I was nearly brought to tears over and over again. I think as the translator I got the best deal out of everyone. I got to talk to them about their lives, their challenges, their families, then really understand how much of a difference the glasses were making, and their unending appreciation and gratitude. Luckily Salvadorans are very touchy people allowing those who don't speak Spanish to feel the love through giant hugs and meaningful handshakes (from men).
Of course, there were plenty of challenges as well. The days were very long, tiring, and at times very difficult. My Spanish is no where near perfect so there were obvious times of frustration. How would I know how to say discharge? Or mucous? Aha. There were also some patients who lacked the gratitude of others or were just coming from some free stuff. It is in those moments that I often question the process of development (on both an individual and country basis) through hand outs and events that people just expect to be given for them. Are we just creating a system were people come to rely on the gifts/money (remesas) of others? I have seen this problem a lot here in El Salvador where people have family working in the United States who send them tons of money/things, which allows them to not work all day. This is no way condemning on the work of charities or service projects that provide help. I truly believe in the work they do and the change they create for various people around the world. I just like to think about this in terms of my own work and community:: what is going to happen when I leave? Will this still continue? Can Salvadorans do this for themselves? If yes, how? All tough questions. And I am not sure the answer can always be yes, especially given the tendency of our own human nature. It is really hard to ignore or resist a need or a chance to make someone's life better when you can fulfill it yourself or with the work of some wonderful organization.
Speaking of an organization, Eye Care International, is amazing. And I am so glad they do what they do. I wish I had a boat load of synonyms to drop here to explain how amazing they are. I was so impressed with their work, dedication, drive, and continuous energy throughout two long weeks. But most importantly their generosity is astounding! Thank you to Eye Care International! I was blessed to have met every single one of you, hear your incredible life stories, and see the amazing work that you do here in El Salvador. Thank you even more for also providing my community with glasses! I have already given them out to about 10 people and I have scheduled an "eye" day in the clinic for next Monday! Here are some pictures of the loot, my host mom, and my host aunt with their new glasses! :)
Edited to add: I realize I just talked about my own concerns regarding the sustainability of projects, yet here I am giving out glasses for free in my own community. Total hypocrite. What I am teaching them? I mean Eye Care asks for a $1 donation. I could do the same and ask for donations to the clinic, but I am not sure that is all I want to do. I want something that is going to teach the value of glasses. Maybe if I incorporate a program for learning to read (most of my community can't). I could start with the Bible given the religiosity of my community. Hmmm...well...I am going to try and think of a way to make this more comprehensive then simply giving out glasses. Any ideas?! Comments welcome!
Post Script: So I mentioned a little while ago that my community is getting potable water. Oh hell yes! Here is the proof! Giant tube leading down the road! WATER IS COMING! MIRE!
BIG TUBEEEEEEEEEEE! agua viene!
Have a good day. And just remember it is the little things...
"One pair of glasses may not change the whole world but it will change that person's world forever." -Eye Care International web site.