Staplers, today’s post was written by Kim, from Eyes on the Dollar. I met Kim recently, at the financial blogging conference FinCon13. She is a very nice person, with a great blog and a unique perspective. When she shared her story about traveling to Costa Rica, I knew that the Staplers would be interested. Particularly during a week when we are giving thanks, this is a perfect reminder for all of us about the difference a small donation can make in someone’s life. These are truly small donations — not time or money, but an item you no longer use, can’t give to a friend, and can’t sell on ebay. Without further ado, Kim:
I’m sure you’ve seen them, the cardboard donation boxes for used eyeglasses. You might find them at your doctor’s office or in front of a chain optical outlet. Other than a place to get rid of your old, nasty glasses and a brief emotion of goodwill because you donated something, you might not have spent much time thinking about them. I never did either until I saw firsthand what happens to all the old glasses.
As a first year optometry student, I had little experience with travel, especially internationally. When I heard you could work your way toward a trip to Central America during the following summer, I was one of the first to sign up. If you met the requirements by doing a number of volunteer and fundraising hours, you could go on a week- long trip to provide eye care in countries where it is not readily available.
What about those eyeglass donation boxes? Many of them get shipped to optometry schools. Students then clean, repair, sort, and label them to take on the eye care trips. By putting in lots of hours with the donated glasses and doing presentations all over Tennessee and Kentucky to raise money, I earned my spot on the plane.
I would be lying if I said my intentions for this trip were completely altruistic. I did want to help people, but my greater reason, at least in the beginning, was to see another part of the world. Our trip was to Costa Rica. Although known for volcanoes, rain forests, and beaches to many adventure tourists, there are lots of poor areas there that don’t receive basic eye care or glasses.
I wasn’t really sure what to expect the first day as we showed up at a glorified barn type structure. With our box of black trash bags to block out windows and make walls, we set up makeshift examining rooms. What I will never forget is the line of people who were waiting for us.
There were hundreds of people, standing patiently in line, hoping to see an optometry student and maybe get glasses. I found out that they had to show up sometime during the previous week to get a ticket to stand in line. That didn’t mean they would be seen. They just got to stand in line, all day, in 90+ degree heat.
We saw about 200 people a day, but the line never got shorter. I’m not sure how many people were turned away, and I don’t want to know. One story will stay with me forever and illustrates how truly lucky you are if you live in a first world country.
A young woman with a small child came through our quasi clinic about midway through our week long stint. It turned out that she had an incredibly strong prescription. We only had one pair of glasses in our stash that were remotely close. I don’t mean correct, but kind of in the same ballpark as what she needed. They were a hideously large frame with very thick lenses. If you looked up coke bottle glasses in the dictionary, you might find a picture of this pair.
Instead of complaining about the poor selection, a huge smile came to her face as she looked at her child through those enormous lenses. This was the first time she had ever seen him clearly. As I sit here writing this, over a decade later, I can still see the look on her face, and it brings tears to my eyes.
When I have a patient who gets upset about having to wait ten minutes for an eye appointment or complains about having to wear glasses, I often think about all those people who stood in line for hours for the possibility of someone’s used glasses. I am so thankful that I had that experience. I am as guilty as the next person of being impatient and ungrateful at times, but I do realize there are many, many others who have it so much worse than I could ever think about.
The next time you walk past one of those donation boxes, consider bringing your old glasses, even reading only prescriptions are extremely useful. In the US, if we get a little older and have trouble reading, we can pick up a pair right off the shelf. It’s not that easy for everyone. Imagine having to stop reading altogether just because you don’t have access to glasses.
I would love to go on another volunteer medical trip at some point. With work and a small child of my own now, time is always my limiting factor, but I’ll get back there someday. I don’t have the skills to cure cancer or produce a great work of art, but I can examine eyes. I can certainly donate my old glasses.