Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Pies For Eyes

7:30 AM
On Saturday, March 19th we had an Eye Clinic Day in Tchekpo, Togo.  Our little staff of five volunteers saw over 200 people.  We fitted over 130 men, women and children with eyeglasses.  We identified over twenty cases of glaucoma and or cataracts.   People; young and old, lined the halls from 7:30 in the morning  until 5:30 that afternoon.  We examined every single person who came that day.

Pies for Eyes…This project was so named because the kids at Shawnee Mission High School in Prairie Village Kansas, under the direction of SHARE Director (and my good friend) Pat Kaufman  sold pies to pay for the shipment of the over 200 pairs of eyeglasses the  high school collected for the people of Tchekpo.  SHARE is a program that teaches High School kids the importance of volunteering, and matches projects to kids who are interested in volunteering.   The Peace Corps being the ultimate example of volunteerism, Pat thought this would be a good project for her group.

We began the Pies for Eyes project in October.  Over six months ago the wheels were set in motion.   It began with me letting Aloughba (my Tchekpo community partner) use my reading glasses to look up a translation in the dictionary.  She had been frustrated that she couldn’t read the words and then astonished that she could see them so well when she put my glasses on.  I relayed this story to Pat Kaufman and told her that I thought there was a great need for eyeglasses here in Tchekpo.  One sentence, that’s really all it took…..pat wrote back with a plan to collect and ship glasses to us. 

Lt to rt - Rachel, Jon, Mathew, David
All through this project I have encountered people who wanted to help.  I would receive emails from people I didn’t even know who strongly identified with the project because they had dramatically experienced the difference glasses had made in their lives.  There was absolutely no effort on my part to keep this project in motion.  No begging people to help, no recruiting reluctant people.   The project flowed effortlessly.  I myself had many doubts that this could really even work.  There were too many unanswered questions, too many obstacles.  Whenever I would have doubts there would be someone at my side who had no doubts… we would proceed slowly, until eventually all the i’s were dotted and all the t’s were crossed.  Over 200 pairs of glasses had been collected, shipped and had arrived in Tchekpo.  We found a doctor and nurse who would donate their time to measuring and labeling all the glasses.  They also agreed to work and administer the eye clinic day.  We had people collecting lists at churches and schools identifying people who needed glasses.  Aurelia, the Peace Corps Nurse Practitioner in Lome was a big supporter of the project and as busy as her life is, she volunteered her time and energy in working to find technicians to help.   It was the most organized effort I had experienced in Togo, much less Tchekpo. 

Claude - Our Doctor from the Tesvie Hospital

I didn’t anticipate that the Pies for Eyes project would be a huge deal.  I thought maybe if we could help a few people see a little better it would be a good thing.  When Aloughba tried my glasses on that day, I immediately identified with her frustration.  I know how painful it is for me to try to read without my glasses.  I quickly jumped from there to an awareness that there must be so many people here whose life would be a little easier if they could see better.  Pies for Eyes was a little side project that just had an energy of it’s own.  It took me along, instead of me taking it along.  This project didn’t save lives, or eliminate poverty, and suffering.  It was just a little, tiny gift that would make peoples lives easier, happier.  You can almost follow the trajectory path.  Imagine a feather hovering over Aloughbas’s head when she tried on my glasses and could see…..then an idea fluttered to me, and then Pat Kaufman, and then the kids at Shawnee Mission and all the other people who helped collect glasses.  The feather starts to rotate and the energy around it becomes stronger and faster, then back to Tchekpo to the nurse and doctor who immediately said yes they would help.   Back and forth from David who helped organize the day with Mathew the Tchekpo clinic director.  And Rachel...I met Rachel in a Bush Taxi one day on my way to Lome.  On the way we struck up a conversation; cemented a friendship and I had her down for Eye Clinic Day.   "For where two or three are gathered together in my name……."

I am not a student of the bible.  I hold onto a very few passages that strike me as being key to a universal truth.  I also tend to give them my own interpretation.  One such passage is:  Mathew 18:20  "For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them"  (King James version)  I will occasionally ponder this passage.  I innately believe this philosophy as being true and logical, interpreting it as meaning there is a force of energy that can manifest and allow anything to happen when people come together to do something good just for the sake of goodness.  Anything is possible at these times.   Miracles.  But more importantly it is possible to feel the spirit of God at these moments.   To understand the meaning of life, to experience the aha moment, at a level without thoughts.  Just feelings.
Claude, David, Rachel, Dove - The staff

And so it was in Tchekpo, Togo on the day we had our Eye Clinic.  This was a day that I felt an energy swell up in myself and my colleagues through a collective and pure force of goodwill.  It was more satisfying than any drug, or any amount of money.  It was addictive.  I would want to duplicate the feeling.  My collegues, I know felt the same way.  They each texted or called me, several times after our day had ended,  just to tell me how happy they were, and that they wanted to do this again.  No other explanation was given.  I could feel their joy.

We had done everything we could think of to be ready for our eye clinic day.  Hundreds of people in Tchekpo were ready.   I wasn’t ready though.  The night before, I felt disaster looming.    I wondered if anyone would show up.   I wondered how we would really be able to determine who needed which glasses.  I wondered if and how the doctor had gone through over 200 glasses…measured them and labeled them.   I wondered if he would show up.  I wondered and worried, and worried and wondered.  I just had this feeling that fitting eyeglasses was too much of a science for us to be able to really do this effectively, and I knew by now that both the workers and the potential recipients expectations were very high.   I didn’t sleep very well the night before, and when I woke up I felt a kind of foreboding.  That feeling completely went away when I entered the Tchekpo clinic.

Even the Chief and his Wife got new glasses!
The Doctor was scheduled to arrive at 9:00am.  We had told people who wanted glasses to start coming at 8:00am.   When I arrived at 7:30am there were over a hundred people waiting, quietly, patiently, expectantly.  Adjowa, they said to me…Adooooooowahhhh is how they say it.  They always say my name with a little sense of humor to it.  Kids and adults alike.  Adoooooowahhhhhh.  Their eyes met my eyes as I walked down the hall.   I stopped occasionally to shake the hand of someone I knew.  I went into the examination room and greeted Mathew, the Clinic director.  Mathew is a very serious young man who cares deeply about his clinic and about the health and welfare of the people of Tchekpo.  Adoooooowahhhhh he said shaking my hand and smiling.  Adjowa, this is a great day!  The Chief and his wife came early, and greeted many of the people waiting.  They were excited and set an example by having an exam and getting glasses for themselves.  The Chief was visibly happy about this event.  I have seen over time how much he really cares about the people of Tchekpo.

All day long..person after person would come into the room where we gave the eye exams.  Dove wrote down the name of each person we examined.  Rachel, the nurse would ask a series of questions to determine which eye exam to give them…and Claude the Doctor would proceed to give an eye exam.  After we found the best match of glasses Dove would then record the strength of the glasses we had given out, next to their name.  We started the day with a little twelve year old girl; Leah.  Leah lives around the corner from me.  She is the daughter of a Gendarme (policeman).  He and his wife have three children and they are such a sweet family.  Her father told me on numerous occasions that his daughter was having a lot of trouble with her eyes, and that she couldn’t study.  They had taken her to a doctor in Lome, had a prescription for some glasses, but could not afford to buy them.  We gave our own eye exam to her.  We were able to match her prescription with some glasses we had collected.  She was our first patient.  She could see.  Her parents were so happy and relieved.  After that; one by one people filed in.  It was so fun to see the look on their faces as they tried on glasses and could see better.  I had thought that the reader glasses would be the easiest to fit and that they would just end up being the most beneficial, but we found that the thick, coke bottle-like glasses were often extremely helpful to really old people who hadn’t been able to see much of anything for maybe decades.  They were the most fun to watch.  We’d do the eye exam and try on a couple really thick glasses and you could just see them being able to see things they hadn’t seen in a very long time.  People left very happy, very excited.

A good days work - the entire staff
I went home near the end of the day and prepared some food for the workers, and brought it back to the clinic.  I sliced bread with peanut butter and honey.  In addition someone had sent me tortilla chips and salsa in a care package.  I had been waiting for the perfect occasion.  This seemed to fit the bill.   We were all ravenously hungry, and ate everything in a few minutes.  They loved the tortilla chips and salsa.  It was quite a treat for them.   We were all in a very good, festive mood.  Exhausted but exhilarated.  We gathered out in front of the clinic for one last picture…..and then to our respective homes to contemplate the days events.

David and Rachel - They worked SO hard

Some moments in life are so beautiful and so pure that the presence of God or the presence of a power greater than ourselves becomes indisputable.  Most, if not all of us have been lucky enough to experience moments like this.  These moments of revelation cannot be planned and seldom do words do them justice.  Rather than a destructive force of a tornado or hurricane this energy comes from  collective action and thoughts of good will.  This day helped us and the people of Tchekpo to see and experience the world a little more clearly.  A collision of unselfish and loving actions that gathers momentum.  It is powerful.  A truly perfect storm, one might say.

My thanks to all the people who helped and were part of this energy.  Especially to Liz DeBacker, Pat Kaufman and the students of Shawnee Mission High School in Prairie Village.

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