Elizabeth Woods-Darby wrote -
What would your life be like, if you couldn’t see?
This is the question that continues to drive the Eye Health Institute. For the past twenty years they have been working tirelessly to bring quality eye care to the underserved people of Jamaica.
In Jamaica only half of the population will ever receive eye care. That’s 1.4 million people. Because of the climate, sun and diet of the Jamaican culture, cataracts run rampant, as well as glaucoma, Pterygiums and extreme near & far sightedness.
The Eye Health Institute is a non-profit based out of Boulder Colorado. Their story began when Dr. Richard Cross and Dr. Myers, went on a medical mission to Jamaica in 1996 with an eye care team of just two optometrists and two opticians. Upon arriving, they were overwhelmed by the number of people waiting in line, sometimes all day, in the heat, for the chance to see an eye doctor and the possibility of improved vision.
Each day the team examined over 100 people and yet there were still many that had to be turned away. The realization that this was the chance - sometimes the only chance - to seek help from an eye doctor deeply impacted Dr. Cross and Dr. Myers. They felt strongly that something had to be done about the need of these people. So the following year they returned to see the patients they had had to turn away. That was in 1996. In 2001 The Eye Health Institute (EHI) was founded as an Internal Revenue Service 501(c) (3) non-profit organization. They have been making a trip to Jamaica once, if not twice, a year ever since.
They have grown considerably since then. EHI had seen over 8,000 patients, given away over 4,000 pairs of glasses and performed 100’s of screenings in surrounding rural schools, all free of charge. They’ve partnered with the University of Michigan, and created an intern program for third and fourth year optometry students to get hands on experience in the global profession of eye care. They have a room in the US aid clinic at Grange-Kendal and have performed many sight restoring surgeries using whatever space is available at the time. But now it is time to challenge the dream of what’s possible and reach even higher.
We are raising $300,000.00 in order to buy a permanent home in Jamaica to use as clinic & home base for The Eye Health Institute. This space will provide a stable environment for the highly sensitive electronic eye care equipment that the humid and salty climate is so disastrous on. It will create a large, clean place for exams and clinics. It will also provide a space for the machinery to make custom glasses to the patients specific prescriptions, and provide a stable place where patients can always come when they need care.
“We relish being a grassroots organization,” said Brian Grimes, vice president on the EHI board. “Everyone pays their own way. No one is on salary. We’re doing it because we want to make a difference and because we have a passion for it.” Brian continues, “Our goal is not to drop into an area and see as many people as we can and then leave. Continuity of care is really important to us, it’s so much more than just a numbers game. It’s about building trust and coming back. If someone can’t be seen for a clinic, if we’re too full, they know that when we (EHI) come back in 6 months they will be seen then. There is comfort in that. We’ve been here in Jamaica for over two decades, we’re here for the long term. And we’re proud of that.”
It’s easy to take your eye sight for granted, but imagine with me for a moment you’re a small child again, you’re in the back of the class and you can’t see the black board. The kids around you tease you when you can’t keep up and the teachers talk about you, as if maybe you’re learning disabled. You start to question yourself, ‘what if you aren’t smart like the other kids?’ ‘What will you do with your life?’
And then you are given an eye exam. And it turns out you just need glasses.
Imagine that first day back in school when you can see everything again. Imagine that joy. What an impact that one little bit of care can do to change a whole life.
A few years ago we had a young woman in Broughton come in with her mother. She was 17 but had been legally blind for over ten years. She’d been living in the dark for over a decade. We examined her at our clinic and ended up making her a pair of glasses. A week later when the glasses were finished, she came back with her mom and when she put the glasses on, the room got quiet. This beautiful young woman, burst into tears as she looked up through her new glasses into her mother’s face and saw it for the first time since she was a little girl.
With the simple implementation of reading glasses, women who have worked as seamstresses all their lives are suddenly able to return to work. Folks unable to read for many years become thrilled with the prospect of reading their bibles again. People with cataracts, through surgery, are able to access the world around them again, including the details of everyday care and cooking, something that blindness can turn obsolete. Sight can give back a life.
It’s stories like this that keep our team of volunteer nurses, surgeons, doctors, interns and staff coming back year after year, inspired to lend a hand.
Now it’s your turn, come join us in making the world a little better of a place. It sounds like a lot of money, but even the cost of a cup of coffee gets us closer to our goal. You have no idea what an impact you can have.
From the bottom of all our hearts. We thank you.
“It’s only together, that we can change the world.”