The Power of Access and Vision
My senior year in high school, I realized that I needed glasses when I couldn’t see the writing on the chalkboard. One trip to the eye doctor, and I walked out feeling inspired and intrigued about how proper vision changes lives. After that experience, I never considered any other profession than optometry.
Fast forward, I’m in a rewarding career that enables me to practice quality vision care here in the United States, but mission trips have become an important part of life for my wife and I. One mission trip can inspire changes, connect us all as human beings, and offer invaluable service that is desperately needed in the world.
Our current suitcases have exceeded 120,000 miles of world travel carrying gently used eyeglasses from Eye Make A Difference, the VSP Global Eyes of Hope eyewear donation program. In the past, we tried to collect and sort glasses on our own for mission trips, and it’s not as easy as you might think. We have developed an enormous appreciation for the process. We feel fortunate to have high-quality, usable glasses that would otherwise be costly to supply on our own.
Our last few trips have steered us to our heart’s purpose in Cambodia. Common questions we receive are, “Why there, and why do just the two of you go?” or, “Why not take a large team and see more patients?”. We know that we lose a lot of time by travelling to remote areas, we see fewer patients, but it’s important for us to go where other doctors can’t or won’t go.
With just the two of us traveling it alleviates the already rigid transportation challenges and increases our mobility and flexibility. This allows us to provide access to eye care in areas severely deficient in health care. Typically, it could take locals up to 10 hours to get medical help, provided they could find transportation and money to get them there.
Extreme poverty, lack of education, poor nutrition, and a turbulent economic history are just some of the daily challenges in Cambodia. One tragic outcome is a rise in the trafficking of men, women, and children as young as 8 years old. Offering something as simple as an eye exam and a pair of glasses has the potential to give the people, and especially the children, of Cambodia a chance at education, training, and, most importantly, a future with more opportunity.
We are often the only connection the villagers have to the eye care or eyewear, and many of the patients we see have had the same pair of glasses for many years. One older gentleman had glasses with the temples missing from both sides; he attempted to tie string to them and wrap the string around his head to hold them in place.
During another visit, a boy’s parents expressed frustration about his behavior and that they perceived him as mentally ill. After a thorough eye exam, we were able to determine that he was extremely far sighted and was acting out because he couldn’t see. We gave him the strongest pair of glasses that we had. He no longer avoids schooling, has a better attitude, and feels less afraid and misunderstood.
We saw more than 500 people on our last trip. As doctors, we’re able to practice incredible health care every day and provide solutions to visual impairments. We sometimes forget how powerful and life changing a simple pair of glasses can be, offering the potential for education, training and more opportunity.
I cannot give enough encouragement to my peers to discover the world from a different perspective and get involved in missions that help people see. You don’t have to do it alone—look for partners, like the Eye Make a Difference program, that can allow you to focus your time, money and talent on your patients. Consider investing long term in a specific region that can benefit from your skills and provide tangible results. It takes some dedicated work, but I promise it pays off.
In the end, sometimes it’s the most simplified things that make the biggest difference.