Sunday, July 12, 2015

Bringing Vision to Mbale

Before going to Uganda, we were told that there was a HUGE need for prescription glasses in the area. Now, there are places to get glasses in Uganda - but they are very expensive, especially when you are only living on a few dollars (if that) per week. So we started gathering glasses from everywhere we could. Caitlin got donations from her work, my old optometrist from high school donated a bunch. And then one of our volunteers got a donation of more than 700 pairs of glasses. She literally brought one suitcase that was just filled with prescription glasses, and that wasn't even all of them. 

We had so many glasses it was ridiculous. But we did not have an eye doctor, and more than 100 pairs of glasses were donated without their prescriptions indicated. We definitely had a need in the community, we had the supplies, but we didn't quite know what to do with them.

So we started working with the hospital to organize an eye camp. Well... we thought this would be an easy process since we had worked with the hospital a lot in the past. Well, the hospital administrator had changed at the beginning of the year, and he was not very excited to have us volunteering with the hospital. Actually, he was sometimes completely unhelpful. But we kept trying to work with him so we could go through the proper channels in order to do this eye camp. While we were working with him, we were also in conversations with the staff in the eye department. They really wanted to work with us, which made it even more difficult to jump through hoops. Here we had willing staff, who had the expertise and equipment, but the administrator was dragging his feet. 
Luckily, the staff in the eye department loved us, so they let us come and use their equipment to test the prescription strength of the eye glasses that we had. Carley and I sat there for a long time testing the prescriptions, as well as testing out how the glasses looked on our faces. We had some seriously great pairs of glasses. But even after we tested the glasses, we still weren't sure what we could do in order to bring the glasses to the communities. 

Then one day we had an amazing opportunity - one of our contacts told us she had an optometrist friend who was retired but liked to volunteer and do eye camps. Yes! We were so excited. I contacted him right away and we set up a time to meet and also a date for an eye camp. Long story short, he flaked out. He didn't just flake out in a small little snowflake type way, he flaked out like a snowstorm. We were left without an eye doctor just a few days before the camp. Shoot dang, how were we going to do this eye camp. We had worked so hard to put one together, and now we didn't have a doctor. Well, we started calling around (this was seriously a team effort) and we got the contact information for another eye doctor and I set up a meeting with her (three days before the camp). 
I go to the meeting, and it turns out she works for the hospital. We're not supposed to work with hospital employees until the MOU with the hospital is finalized. I explain this to her, and she says she doesn't care. She'll take a day off work and come as an individual rather than associating herself with the hospital. What? Yes, we had a doctor. And she was good to go. She was super sassy and wanted things her way - which was fun/kind of frustrating. But overall she was a fantastic doctor who worked tirelessly to provide eye care for a large amount of people in a rural village.
Which reminds me, I haven't even began to describe where we did the eye camp or what that was like. We did the eye camp in Buwasunguyi with Dr. Jan. Dr. Jan is a phenomenal doctor from the UK who has been working/living in Uganda forever. She runs a hospice (Joy Hospice) in Mbale as well as a rural clinic in Buwasunguyi. The rural clinic is run so well and the people there can always depend on high quality healthcare. So we go out to her clinic and start setting up for the eye camp. We had been so stressed about getting things ready (remember the story about finding a doctor?) that we hadn't really thought about how we would set up on the day of the eye clinic. Luckily, the eye doctor and Dr. Jan were there to help us, and we got everything fairly easily.
We had a line of people already there who were so excited to get their vision tested. Dillon and I manned the vision examination area. First I started by getting their information (name, age, etc.) and then Dillon performed all the exams and I recorded their score. Of course, we all tested each other as well. My vision is pretty near perfect, thank goodness. :)
After they had their eyes examined by us, they went to see the doctor who examined their eyes for infections and wrote prescriptions for medication and glasses. Carley and Amelia helped the doctor and Carley administered the medicine and monitored the finances. We charged half price for all the medicines so that we could recoup some of the expenses, however, the eye exams were free. 
After Dillon and I finished examining everyone, we joined the girls in the doctors room and helped pair people up with glasses. It was so fun selecting pairs of glasses for people. It was really rewarding to help them find glasses and see them put them on. We had people who were in tears when they received the right prescription. It made everything worth it. 
This lady who worked at the clinic was sad because she got there after we had already finished the eye exams and she would not be able to be tested. But we made an exception for her and gave her a free pair of glasses. She was so excited, she was squirmy. Have you ever seen someone who is so excited that they can't stop squirming with giddiness? That is exactly how this woman was. She was a joy.

And of course, we ended the day by taking a group picture modeling some of our favorite pairs of glasses. This day was seriously one of my favorite while I was in Uganda. It was a lot of work, but that work paid of and we had a great eye camp, and helped 65 people receive vision. 
We left a ton of glasses in Mbale, so hopefully the current interns and volunteers are able to organize more eye camps. The people need them, and doing a vision clinic is one of the most instantly gratifying types of volunteer work that we did.

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