A recent shipment from White Rock was a sight for sore eyes for thousands of Nicaraguans.
Hundreds of eyeglasses, donated by White Rock residents and collected by the White Rock Optometry Clinic, reached the Central American country on Nov. 21 with help from the Third World Eye Care Society.
The clinic has been working with TWECS for nearly a decade, donating nearly $40,000 to the organization, which was founded by Vancouver optometrist Dr. Marina Roma-March.
Teams of optometrists, opticians and general volunteers travel to developing countries with TWECS, providing medical care and relief, including White Rock Clinic’s Dr. Cindy Anderson, who has travelled to Tanzania, Kenya and the Philippines.
“Every year she (Roma-March) goes out on a project and we’re lucky enough to go with her sometimes,” Anderson said. “It is hard work but I feel fortunate that I can take my profession with me when I travel and help other people.”
After years of collecting eyeglasses and donating them, five doctors at the clinic – Drs. Melanie Sherk, Tracy Ertel, Tracey Curry, Sally Donaldson and Anderson – decided to ask patients if they would like to donate to funding eye care in the Third World, matching each contribution dollar for dollar. To date, the team has donated $37,260, and for 2011 will be donating $17,052.
“We are very fortunate to be successful doctors in a generous community,” Anderson said. “People are more than happy to give here.”
For Roma-March, the donations have made a world of difference, allowing the TWECS team to work on inspecting, packaging and delivering the eyeglasses and organizing volunteers for future trips.
She recalls her first year of marriage, when she and her husband would spend four nights a week banging on doors asking for donations.
“It was so much effort and it took us away from everything else,” Roma-March said. “Then, when White Rock gave us their first cheque, I was in tears.”
On the most recent trip to Nicaragua, the TWECS team gave eyeglasses to 3,315 underprivileged people living in various areas and conditions – from farming villages to the garbage dump of Chinandega.
Without the help of the clinic and White Rock residents, thousands of Nicaraguans would not receive the miracle of sight, Roma-March said.
Of all the people she met while in Nicaragua, one case stands out for her.
Carlos, a seven-year-old boy who is blind from birth due to hydrocephalus – or pressure on the brain – and congenital cataracts, came to the clinic with his mother to see what could be done. After examining the boy, the team of doctors realized his right eye was completely black-blind, but his left eye could perceive movement from about three feet from his face. After concluding that surgery would not be able to help his vision and that regular glasses wouldn’t help, there was a twist of fate for Carlos.
“When we went into our box of supplies, we found an incredibly strong device called an 8X spectacle mounted microscope for the left eye, in a frame perfectly suited for him,” Roma-March said. “This is where the magic, or spirit, or God or karma, really happens on the trips. It was unbelievable.”
In Canada, the device would cost nearly $1,500, Roma-March said. But because of the donations, they were able to provide it for free.
The impact of the donations is not lost on Anderson, who has seen first-hand the difference seeing well can make.
“When you think of someone who is a fisherman who can’t repair his net, his livelihood is so dependent on something as simple as a pair of reading glasses,” Anderson said. “It’s very emotional when you see the results.”
For more information about TWECS, visit www.twecs.ca