[SeMissourian.com] Mostly Cloudy ~ 85°F  
Feels like: 96°F
Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Taking eye glasses to others

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Each year Nevada Lions Club collects a large number of used glasses. These glasses are collected to be sent to third world countries where people cannot afford glasses and to give them an opportunity to see.

I asked my cousin Bob Hawk, Iola, Kan., to give a report of his experience in being involved in taking glasses to another country. His assistance includes being an interpreter. When he and others share their experiences of the impact that the glasses have on the recipients of the glasses, it reinforces the importance of collecting the glasses and that it is a worthy project. Following is Bob's story:

"Recently I returned from a trip to Chile, a long narrow country on the west side of South America and an area referred to by the Chileans as 'sur del mundo' or south of the world. The purpose for this trip was to bring eye examinations and glasses to persons with few resources and little or no access to eye care. Chile does not have optometrists like we have here in the U.S., they have ophthalmologists and opticians and most of these are located in more populous areas. It is not uncommon to have one eye doctor for more than 100,000 persons and the wait for an appointment can often take four years or more. Factor in that the cost of glasses isn't much different than here in the U.S. and that many working class people may be strapped for the cost of bus fare to even go to an appointment. If that is the case they most assuredly won't be able to afford the appointment or the glasses, so they make do without eye exams and proper glasses.

"Our group of 12 consisted of four optometrists, three from southeast Kansas and one from Sand Springs, Okla., plus eight assistants. This was the first trip of this type for some of our group and for others, I included, this was the fifth. As the result of a chance meeting on an airplane while returning from a similar trip in 2006, our transportation costs were paid for by a gentleman from South Carolina. Planning for the clinics involved persons working for him in Chile and the personnel and health departments of the municipalities of Calbuco and Maullin, where we were going to be working. The municipalities in Chile are more like counties here in the U.S. and not just a city or town. Persons to attend the two clinics were screened prior to our arrival to make sure only those with vision needs and without the resources to obtain eye care on their own would be served.

"The glasses dispensed were used, donated glasses collected by Lions Clubs, Rotary Clubs, and other service organizations. This concept of dispensing used glasses was conceived by Dr. Franklin Harms, an optometrist from Hillsboro, Kan., in 1971, and became VOSH (Volunteer Optometric Services to Humanity). VOSH teams have now traveled to over 90 countries worldwide.

"Our first clinic was setup in the Lions Club meeting hall in Calbuco, Chile. Calbuco, the city, is located on an island connected to the mainland by a bridge. It is well known for fishing and shellfish. The clinic ran from 8-5 or whenever we were able to finish. The interpreters who worked with us were students studying English at a university within the region. They were terrific and we couldn't have done the clinics without them. During the 2 1/2 days of this first clinic we dispensed 576 pairs of glasses. Some of the patients came from within the city; others lived in the "campo" or rural areas. While talking to one of our patients, a lady in her early 50s, I asked if she lived in the city. She said no, that she lived in the country. I next asked if she had been brought to the clinic by bus and she replied that she and had left home at 6 a.m., and walked for two hours to be at the clinic when it opened. To me this testifies as to the importance of the clinic for these people with vision needs.

"From Calbuco we traveled by bus for 1 1/2 hours to the municipality of Maullin, another fishing village, where we arrived in late afternoon. Our clinic facility here was the municipal theater. Finally by about 8:30 p.m., we had everything arranged and ready to begin the clinic the next morning at 8 a.m. The days are long and the work is tiring, but oh so rewarding. The clinic in Maullin ran for two days and during that time we dispensed nearly 450 additional pair of glasses bringing the grand total of these two clinics to something over 1,000 pair. Hard and fast numbers are difficult to obtain because there is always one more person that needs to be worked into the already tight schedule.

"Since 2000 I have been privileged to be involved in five trips resulting in over 8,500 persons receiving glasses, persons that would probably not otherwise have received an eye exam and glasses. The great thing about these clinics and this type of volunteer work that is that in a matter of a few minutes you can change a life by providing the gift of improved sight. In the process of changing the life of another person, your life can be touched and changed in the same brief moment. I feel blessed to have been drawn to and involved in this humanitarian effort."

Thanks goes to Bob for sharing this brief report of his recent trip and the impact that the program has. A special thank you also goes to everyone donating used glasses.

Anyone wishing to donate their glasses may give them to any Lions' member or drop them in the collection box in the Wal-Mart parking lot.

Leonard Ernsbarger
Leonard At Large