ADDIS ABABA, ETHIOPIA NOV 2009
ADDIS ABABA, ETHIOPIA NOV 2009
In 8.5 clinic days in Addis Ababa Menellik Hopsital 4,500 patients were seen
and over 5000 eyeglasses were dispensed by 22 TWECS volunteers.
My TWECS Experience in Ethiopia
By Kim Pearce
Having been in the optical industry for the past 20 years, I’ve wanted to be part of an eye mission for most of those years. What made me commit to this one? A few reasons:
1. I had seen repeatedly, the dedication & passion Dr. Marina Roma March has put into the EyeBall, the major fund-raiser for TWECS. This is a labour of love. I wanted to be involved.
2. I was looking to support a group where my personal time & money went directly to benefit the people in need. TWECS is that organization.
3. TWECS is 100% volunteer – if you don’t volunteer, it doesn’t happen!
I have spent time in Third World countries in the past, but had never experienced poverty of this magnitude until now. Ethiopia is the 4th poorest country in the world. My thoughts throughout the trip kept reverting to…What must be happening in Countries 1, 2 & 3?
Our 1st day involved a drive around the district to acquaint ourselves with where the people we would be seeing for the next 2 weeks lived and also a walk through a local market area. We were all in culture shock, cameras clicking like crazy. Many roads were not really roads at all… just deep ruts that led you to believe only a 4-wheel vehicle could drive it. Donkeys and cows wandered …where ever, the sheep loosely controlled by a herdsman, only the chickens (the smallest creature of them all) were corralled. Colorful displays of spices, cow dung & bundles of sticks were sold everywhere. The buildings were made of pieces of corrugated tin & mud brick.
The last stop of our 1st day was at the Menelik II Hospital, site of our clinic and where we’d be working for the next 2 weeks. The Operating Room was a building that has seen too much grief, as we witnessed the next day during set up. Life is very hard for people here.
The CEO of the hospital was not helpful to our mission at all. In fact, he was quite surprised when Marina mentioned that the boxes of eyeglasses were at the hotel. He was expecting the glasses to be held up in Customs as he hadn’t signed the final documents to let them through. The later we started, the fewer glasses would be dispensed, the greater the number left behind. Someone at Customs let us through & the CEO’s leverage was gone! Grudgingly, he allowed us use of a building that was still being renovated. Off we went & set up shop.
I thought we saw a large number of people the 1st day & that we saw people in need. Marina said, “Just wait until the word gets out that we’re here”. Boy, was she right. These people were wealthy compared to the people lining up the 3rd , 4th & each day thereafter.The 1st week of registering people was emotionally difficult as the people were so desperate. How do you justify shouting at people to move back when they have nothing and the ability to see will make such a great difference to their existence? But we did…we had to. Our goal was to see 500 people each day for 9 days. Thousands lined up each day.
Addis Ababa is 8000 ft above sea level and very cold at night. People slept on the ground outside the hospital hoping to get a stamp on their arm the next morning. Each day we tried something different to maintain order & to avoid seeing the same people twice or 3 times…different stamps on the wrists or starting earlier in the morning. Every day we weeded out people with counterfeit stamps. Most days the police were there to maintain order. They wanted glasses and eye exams too, even though most didn’t need them. One day they were there with guns but they didn’t use them. The crowd was aggressive out of desperation but not violent.
Once the people were in the clinic, they were the gentlest, kindest people, kissing our hands, thanking us over & over… Amesegenallo , Amesegenallo!
Marina continued to negotiate our stay, all the while, doing what we were there to do…improve the lives of those less fortunate with someone else’s old, used eyeglasses.
Every morning I helped with registration until we had 500 people registered & then I went inside to help with visual acuities and dispensing. The most difficult part of the experience for me was telling someone we couldn’t help them, when they had waited all day to be seen…their hope taken away. It tore my heart out. Each time I had to remind myself about the people we were able to help, the joy we were bringing to their lives. I remember hearing a whoop from the dispensary when Dr. Paterson had given a girl, with a -23.00 RX, 2 pairs of glasses to wear, one over the other & she was thrilled – she could see! There was magic happening here.
We had the most wonderful group of interpreters: kids from the street who came to help us before & after school every day, their family members, local young people, people from the line-ups…people helping people. They all worked so hard. The neighbourhood people would see us walking along with our TWECS shirts on, wave & yell out “Canada”! It made me feel so proud!
Close to the end of the 2nd week, we commented on how completely we were immersed into the project, how the dust, dirt, street life and gas fumes were becoming a normal part of our lives. For us though, this was a moment in time. For most Ethiopians, this is their life.
We also had the incredible good fortune to visit a Hope for Children orphanage while they were celebrating their 9th year of existence. What a wonderful event! The TWECS team gave out treats we had brought with us for the little ones. We knew this group was well cared for. When I spoke with Yewonshit, the founder of the orphanage, I instantly knew why she was referred to as the “Mother Theresa of Ethiopia”. You could feel her kindness.
Yewonshit arranged for members of our team to also go to a few schools and orphanages to give eye exams to kids identified as needing better vision to do their schoolwork. Even better!
Overall, 4500 eye exams were given and over 5000 eyeglasses were dispensed by TWECS Ethiopia. This was an incredible experience for me. It has been 2 months since we’ve returned home & a day has not gone by I haven’t thought about these people.
Has my commitment grown stronger? Most definitely! Would I go on another mission? Absolutely! This is an experience I encourage everyone to have in their lifetime. It is very humbling & definitely worthy. No matter the level of experience you have in this industry, your contribution will be enormous. You will be so glad you got involved!
It is true that if you give a person sight, you give them the ability to change their world. Please give or continue to give… your time, your knowledge, your glasses. It does make a difference …. one person and one pair of glasses at a time. Hope to see you on a future mission!