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INSIDE A VOLUNTEER EXPERIENCE

July 19, 2017
A volunteer’s journal entry from a day with International Relief Teams’ eye clinic

Guest post by: Kimbie Palacio

Our work on this Sunday took place at a clinic approximately 20 minutes south of Ensenada in Baja California, Mexico. When we arrived, the waiting room was already full of people hoping to have their eyes checked and receive their free eyeglasses. We had to organize our work stations pretty quickly and make do with the configuration of the space. 

For distance vision exams, it’s critical to have good lighting and a 10 foot open space between the eye chart and the patient. It was comical at times because we had so much cross traffic walking between the patients and the charts. This was obviously not ideal, but  we just have to make it work in these types of situations. The patients seemed so grateful for our support and were very patient with the interruptions.

A woman hugs Kimbie after receiving her free eye exam and eyeglasses.

There were so many people and so much commotion  in the clinic that I pretty much had to ask patients to shout when they read the eye chart.  It’s these little adjustments that remind me we can get work done even in less than ideal conditions.

It was good to see a lot of children being examined. They were a challenge though!  Sometimes they were so shy that they wouldn’t take their hands from their eyes. One little boy was eating an orange with chili powder on it while being examined. Then he rubbed his eyes with chili… exam over! 

A young boy poses with an orange before his eye exam.
Kimbie comforts the young boy after he rubbed chili powder in his eyes.

We had to try several different tactics with the kids: separating them from siblings, or having the “moms in our group work with them. It’s so crucial for them to get examined at this age though.  It was good to see the effort that goes in to making this happen. 

It’s fun to see how people smile when they put their glasses on and can finally see clearly without struggling!

A couple smiles after receiving a free exam and eyeglasses.

There were a few especially tough cases. One woman had been hit in the left eye with a nail several years ago and she was practically blind in that eye. There was nothing we could do to correct her vision in that eye even after working with her for more than 30 minutes, but she was genuinely grateful for the attention and the attempt.

The thing that most struck me on this trip however was the dedication of the Ensenada Rotary Club that we were collaborating with.  I always find it so encouraging to work with our in-country partners. These people have a sincere desire to help members of their community.  They do whatever  they can to improve lives. 

From my many years volunteering with IRT, I know one of their strengths is finding these partners and working to bridge the gap between their groundwork and the care (eye exams, eye glasses, surgical teams, training, etc.) that the people need.  Drawing on the strengths of in-country support and IRT volunteers, the joined forces are really able to make a difference in these communities.  That spirit of collaboration was great to experience.

Kimbie gives a distance eye exam.

We saw around 100 people and it was a long day. It seemed almost miraculous to some of the young kids who needed huge corrections to their vision that they were able to receive glasses. It was a great trip, and as usual I ended the day feeling like I got much more than I gave.

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