By JULIE DYMON
For 1,000 Hondurans in El Progreso, seeing words on a page or distinguishing family members from strangers was a challenge, until they stood at the end of a very long line. Thanks to UMW’s influence throughout the local Fredericksburg community, those Hondurans now have glasses and restored sight.
From Jan. 24 to 26, members of the Stafford and Rappahannock rotary clubs provided a temporary eye clinic in El Progreso, Honduras. Rick Pearce, acting vice president for Administration and Finance, and Jeff Small, candidate for Fredericksburg Circuit Court Clerk, were among these dedicated Rotarians.
Small explained that in 2007, Shin Fujiyama, UMW alumus and founder of Students Helping Honduras (SHH), had just begun SHH and spoke to the area rotary clubs to garner support for his mission. After he spoke, not only did the Stafford Rotary want to support SHH financially, but they also jumped at the chance to travel to Honduras and help out in person.
“My wife and I take every opportunity we can to visit other cultures.” Pearce said. “It costs money. Nobody pays your way or anything, but it’s a great way to see how people live and see a country. This is how you do it, never as a tourist.”
The January service trip combined the efforts of the Stafford, Rappahannock and El Progreso rotary clubs, according to Pearce. Dr. Sam Smart, a Stafford optometrist, used the rotary club donations to purchase new and used glasses for their mission.
A total of about 3,000 prescription glasses were collected through donations from the Lions club and a national grant from the Rotary International Foundation that allowed them to buy new glasses for the clinic.
In preparation for the clinic, Pearce said Dr. Smart and his staff gave rotary members a crash course on identifying the prescription of the lenses so they could tag and sort the glasses.
They were also taught how to properly adjust frames for comfort, how to determine which patients needed bifocals and how to test for glaucoma and cataracts.
The eye clinic ran for three days in Honduras. During that time, over 1,000 patients moved through three stations at the eye clinic.
Pearce explained that rotary members tested patients for glaucoma, cataracts and astigmatism and provided dilation drops at the first station.
The optometrists examined each patient for ocular diseases and wrote their lens prescriptions at the second station. Station three was the most exciting, as this was the prescription filling and frame fitting station.
Rotarians treated over 300 people each day, but Small acknowledged they could not treat everyone and had to turn people away at night so the team could eat and rest for the next day’s clinic. The waves of patients that flooded the stations made it apparent that this clinic was a necessity to the community.
“Many Hondurans had flash burn, which comes from being out in the sun all the time. The sun actually burns their corneas.” Small explained. “Even at the rudimentary schools they had, these kids couldn’t see anything that the teacher was doing. As soon as they got their glasses they were so excited and would pick up something and were amazed that they could see the words.”
People from 4 to 108 years of age went to the clinic.
“I can’t tell you what it means to have an older fellah sit in front of you and you set a pair of glasses on him and all of a sudden he would look up and he hadn’t seen at a distance in decades,” said Pearce.
The look on the man’s face upon his first clear sight in decades was the kind of joy and appreciation that brings goose bumps to those who witness it, Pearce explained.
Small describes a similar experience with a 13-year-old he treated who was legally blind
“Stick your hand two inches in front of your nose. That is how this guy sees,” Small said. “So we obviously didn’t have glasses strong enough for him.”
One of the members of the optical crew helped the boy pick out a set of frames, which wasn’t easy due to his visual impairment.
“[We] worked with him to make sure the frames fit real comfortably […] took out the lenses and gave him the frames. So, along with the frames and the referral he was able to get the right glasses,” Small explained.
Small said the permanent eye clinic in El Progreso agreed to honor patients with free care if they had referrals from the rotary eye clinic. That joint effort afforded the boy a chance to see with the proper prescription.
In Honduras, the government is unable to help the poor, according to Pearce.
“I’ve been all over the world […] and I think the poverty [in Honduras] is about as severe as any place I have ever seen,” he said. “Sixty percent of the population is below the poverty line and another 30 percent is in abject poverty, which is about half of what the poverty level would be. These are folks who do not have any access to clean water or medical care or anything like that.”
Both Pearce and Small were left with an admiration for how appreciative the Hondurans were for the help they received.
“When you go to a third world country, whether it is Honduras or anywhere else, you just become so grounded on how well we have it here,” Small remarked.