Each year, a few of the EyeCare Prime employees get the chance to volunteer at an Optometry Giving Sight mission trip. Jason, an EyeCare Prime employee who was selected to join the 2018 mission trip, wrote his recount of the trip of a lifetime below.
My Boss: You have been selected to attend a mission trip!
Me: Oh! That sounds great I responded. Where is it?
My Boss: Haiti
Me: Haiti! (all while thinking, where is that? Time to consult all-knowing “Google”)
According to CNN
Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere. Eighty percent of residents live in poverty, according to the CIA World Factbook. Haiti is one of the most densely populated and least developed countries in the Western Hemisphere.
According to my government (The British)
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advise against all but essential travel to the Carrefour, Cite Soleil, Martissant and Bel Air neighborhoods in Port-au-Prince due to the high risk of criminal activity.
Note to self: Don’t tell any of this stuff to friends and family.
As the pre-trip planning increased, and we understood our roles more, my anxiety grew mainly due to the unknown. I quickly got distracted with daily life, and before I knew it the departure day arrived, and I found myself arriving in Haiti’s capital Port-Au-Prince. The drive to our first nights’ accommodations was an invasion of the senses. It was so different than our sanitized and regimented world of the UK & the US. There was noise, unregulated roads, and rubbish all over the place. The warm welcome of our hosts more than compensated for the unusual start to our trip.
After meeting the other volunteers and trip leaders from VOSH, and interestingly two Americans who were born in Haiti, we had a good night’s sleep in preparation for the week ahead. Day one was a 7-hour drive in a minibus to Jeremie. This was another assault of the senses, seeing what multiple natural disasters and extreme poverty look like first-hand. When we arrived in Jeremie we went to the “hospital” to set up for our week’s work. The hospital looked more like a war zone than the mental picture I had preconceived.
However, we all began setting up our stations and equipment for eye exams. Michelle, our trip leader, confirmed our target was to see 1,000 Haitians in the four days. This sounded tough, but we were all super positive and it felt like our energy and enthusiasm would get us through.
Monday morning arrived, we took the minibus to the hospital and our consecutive 12hr days began, in some ways you could say the next four days were quite repetitive. You would be right with this statement, but I can tell you we all learned a lot during those four days. Every day I try to capture my thoughts in a journal and I would like to share some of my highlights for your interest and reflection:
- We take for granted the most basic things such as running water. The majorly of the Haitian population are getting water from a pump in the ground and there is no hot water for a shower.
- Reading and writing are not a given, a high percentage of the people could not read so we had to adapt the eye test by using a “Tumbling E” chart which you ask the viewer to tell you the direction of the letter “E” by pointing up, down, left or right.
- Vision unlocks or blocks your potential in life. People have shared this theory with me before but when you can see the person’s occupation on the form and you determine their level of visual acuity the theory comes to life. Vision = Education = A Job = Money = Food & Shelter (This also works in the opposite way).
- The smile and thanks from someone is worth a million dollars. Several times I was moved when someone we had completed the pre-screen test for came out of the building with a pair of glasses that allowed them to see properly and they simply said thank you and gave you a look that said it really meant something. #Priceless
- Family members get very worried when the Island you are on has an earthquake, luckily for us, it was on another part of the Island.
- We all make preconceptions about people, especially when you cannot speak the language. For example, some people looked unapproachable and sounded grumpy but when you simply said good morning and asked how they were, their face changed to a smile and you could feel a connection.
- We all make preconceptions about food. The food in such a strange environment such as the crab and beef stew (Legim) that, frankly, looked like baby vomit, turned out to be delicious. I can tell you it took some effort for me to give it a try.
- Make fewer preconceptions and give people a greeting, and be open-minded about trying their food. You might surprise yourself. It could be your new best friend or a favorite new dish.
- People try and do the best for others, so many people brought others to the hospital in the hope we could help them without thinking about what help they needed themselves. The example that pulled my heart more than another was the 40-year-old son who brought in his Dad who was pretty much blind. The son did not even ask for an eye exam, he simply wanted us to try and help his father. Unfortunately, there was not a lot we could do for the Dad but we did manage to give the son some readers that he would use to read things for his Dad.
- After a week of cold showers, a hot shower and fresh towel feels like a luxury, just remember many people don’t have the same luxuries we do.
Thanks to anyone who has pledged funds to this amazing cause. I can tell you every cent makes a difference. Thanks also for letting me be chosen to represent all of the donors and the company I work for on this eye-opening charity mission!