Outside of a large municipal center surrounded by towering mountains, patients waited in lines, eager to receive eyeglasses from Hope Alliance volunteers. For some, the journey to vision began before dawn as groups of patients left their homes at 2 a.m. to make it to the clinic in time to turn around and reach home again before dark.
The Hope Alliance, a Park City based non-profit, sent Parkites as far as Haiti and Peru this summer to work to create sustainable development in impoverished communities.
In the rural Peruvian towns of La Matanza, Frias, and Huarmaca, 19 volunteers of all ages distributed from a reserve of 8,000 donated eyeglasses including 6,000 prescription glasses, reading glasses, negative sphere glasses, and sunglasses donated by Sunglass Warehouse. According to a trip report from the Hope Alliance, their work changed the lives of 1,537 patients.
Volunteers gathered from across Utah for the trip, which included lengthy bus rides and bouts of traveler's bug. Despite this, the volunteers remained upbeat and ready to lend a helping hand.
Trip leader and Hope Alliance Program Coordinator Mimi Kameshige said, "It was everybody's first time, not only in Peru, but on one of our expeditions. Everybody worked really, really well together and no one complained-- they were all there for the same reason."
According to Dr. Bill Harrison, an optometrist from Salt Lake City, the journey up to the Andes Mountains was one of "difficult travel on dirt roads for many hours, but when we were there the people were happy and the land was beautiful.
Volunteers were trained on how to handle the patients prior to the trip, and in the use of retinomaxes (automated machines that determine glasses prescriptions) which allowed for quick setup and the screening of hundreds of patients each day.
In addition to prescribing glasses, Kameshige said the team educated locals on preventing pterygium, a growth on the eye caused by overexposure to UV light, and referred several patients to local doctors for cataract surgery.
Explained Harrison, "Quite a few of our patients thought that they were going blind but really just needed glasses and were quite pleased when they could see again. We were able to resolve ingrown eyelashes that had been bothering patients for a long time. Some patients who felt they were going blind were developing cataracts and we were able to let them know that there was a solution and give them instructions on what needed to be done."
Glasses were given out to patients of all ages and backgrounds including older women that needed their sight restored to sew and do handwork, and young children from an orphanage for victims of domestic abuse.
According to Kameshige, "We pull 4-5 pairs of glasses for each patient to see which one is the best fit; when the patient finds it you can see how their face is completely filled with joy and just uplifted. They're smiling and giving you hugs."
Distribution of the glasses was made easier thanks to a computer program written by Park City High School senior Max Johansen.
Kameshige explained, "The data for all of our prescription eyeglasses is entered into a database for Excel. Before we had to manually sort through a spreadsheet where each pair had a number 1-6,000. Now with this updated program all we have to do is enter the prescription and it pulls up 10-20 possible matches."
Students in Haiti
Far North of Peru, PCHS students showed their compassion in Camatin, Haiti at an orphanage run by Kym Meehan, executive director of Hope Alliance Haiti.
Meehan, who has worked in Haiti for the past 16 years, described the PCHS students as "the most amazing team ever."
Park City High School's National Honor Society raised over $1,800 with their annual 5K Memorial Run which was donated for the creation of a well.
The team arrived with 500 hygiene kits collected by PCHS's Key Club. Each student also came prepared with supplies they were instructed to collect individually which were distributed on daily hikes through neighboring villages. Backpacks donated by Black Diamond Equipment filled with school supplies were also given out.
For Claire Whitney, a PCHS senior who kept a blog about her journey in Haiti, the most difficult part of the trip was seeing those she could not help.
"We would go places and we'd run out of supplies, we'd run out of food or baby kits and the people would be begging us for them but we couldn't give it to them. That was really hard for everyone. That was the hardest part."
In addition to bringing necessities, the students expanded a chicken coop run by the girls at the orphanage, worked on art projects with the orphans, and helped locals reroof houses for older women. They also helped paint the orphanage walls with a decorative mural.
A remaining problem between the two trips is a disagreement amongst team leaders over who gets the title of "the best team ever."
Laughed Kameshige, "I'm rooting that our team was the best but I know (Meehan) thinks hers was too."
Art projects created by the orphans will be auctioned off at The Haiti Project Art Auction to be held Saturday, Sept. 27, from 6-9 p.m. at The Kimball Art Center to raise money for the orphanage.