My sister Jody gave me a thoughtful gift before I left for Africa. Twelve pairs of reader glasses! Everyone who wears reader glasses knows how easily they are broken and how often they are lost. In the states I had a pair stashed everywhere. In the car, in the kitchen, in my purse, and still there were many times that I was rummaging around for a pair. I’d hate to be stuck in Africa without them, because without them I can’t read.
To date, I have given away three pairs of those twelve pairs of glasses. The first pair I gave to Alougba. She was sitting in my house, and as often happens we were trying to communicate by looking a word up in the French/English dictionary. I saw Alougba straining to see the small print of the dictionary. She finally got annoyed, threw the book aside, and let me know she just couldn’t see it. I pulled out a pair of my glasses and told her to put them on. She did. She put them on upside down, and looked again at the dictionary in front of her. The look on her face was funny. She threw her head back, and had a big smile on her face. She then wanted to look up many more words, and we spent that afternoon doing just that. Alougba repeatedly put my glasses on upside down. I finally decided not to correct her. Apparently she liked the way they fit better when they were upside down. I told Alougba she could keep the glasses. I could sense that she couldn’t believe that she would receive such a gift. She carries a yellow plastic bag around everywhere we go, that I have assumed carries most of the things that she values. She has a little notebook, and a pen, the box of crayolas I gave her, and now her glasses are in the bag.
I had a similar experience with Moses (my sixteen year old translator) and believe it or not the Village Chief. Each time we were looking up words in the dictionary. I could see Moses struggling as well, so I handed him a pair of glasses. Moses said, “ohhhhh wowwwwww.” I told him he could keep the glasses. He was very appreciative, very excited. He asked me if they would also help him see the blackboard in school. I told him, no, unfortunately these glasses will only help with his reading.
Tchekpo has 10,000 to 15,000 people. Obviously the now eight pairs of glasses I have left (I lost a pair), aren’t going to help much. It’s not that the people here haven’t seen eye glasses. I’m sure most have them have seen them, but eye glasses are definitely not a part of their world. I started thinking about how much more difficult it must be not to be able to read or see distances….how hard school must be for Moses because he can’t see the blackboard, how difficult it must be for Alougba to help the community if she can’t read about all resources. Then I thought of my friend Pat…back home in Prairie Village, Kansas. Pat Kaufman is the Director of SHARE; the volunteer organization at Shawnee Mission East High School. As Director of SHARE she works with high school students, helping them understand the importance of volunteering, and community involvement, and matching students with volunteer opportunities. When I left for Africa, Pat told me that if there was a project I thought she and SHARE might be able to help with to let her know. I sent Pat an email and told her about the fact that no one had glasses in Tchekpo, and they didn’t have access to eye exams or glasses. I wondered if there was some way that her group might collect eyeglasses and send them to us. Pat wrote back within twenty-four hours, and had already put the wheels in motion.
The high school students at Shawnee Mission East High School in Prairie Village, Kansas have organized a drive to collect eyeglasses to be distributed to the people of Tchekpo, this little village in Africa. The collection of glasses will run until the end of October. To pay for the cost of shipment, SHARE has started a project called Pies for Eyes. The youth volunteers will be baking pies and selling them at school.
When the glasses arrive in Tchekpo we plan on forming a group here to help distribute them as effectively as possible. We will work with the Dispensare (clinic) to divide the glasses up according to strength, and if they are for far-sighted or near sighted, then we will do the best we can with an eye chart to determine which glasses might be helpful. I spoke with my friend Racheal; a nurse here in Tcheckpo, and she thought she might be able to get an optometrist from Lome to come and assist us. We will do some community outreach for this starting with the primary schools, asking teachers if they know of children who have trouble seeing, then the highschool and finally we will go to the churches and get the word out to adults. It obviously won’t be perfect fits, but I think that a significant number of people in tchekpo will be able to see better.
If you, your workplace, your church, or an organization you belong to would like to help donate glasses, please send me an email, and I will pass the information on to Pat, so that her group can contact you, and tell you where to send the glasses you’ve collected. Remember! She plans on shipping the glasses by the end of October.
I’ve told a few people in Tchekpo that these glasses are coming, and that a highschool in Kansas is collecting them. Their grateful response has been more than I anticipated. It’s these looks on their faces when they feel any sense of hope in a place where there’s not much hope that is gratifying. I will be posting pictures of the eye clinic on this blog, and pictures of that look of hope on the faces of the people in Tchekpo when they can see the world a little more clearly for the first time.
Many thanks to Pat Kaufman, the SHARE Program, and the high school students at Shawnee Mission East High School in Prairie Village Kansas for their generous spirits. This will make a difference!