Visionary Volunteers: Three Countries, Two Optometrists, One Mission to Provide Vital Vision Care to Developing Countries
According to the World Health Organization, more than 1 billion people across the globe have vision impairments or blindness because they don’t have access to necessary care. In keeping with our mission to provide access and inclusion everywhere, two Lighthouse optometrists spent their vacation time on service trips providing critical vision care in Jamaica, Peru, and Mexico.
Last October, Dr. Kelly Scherer ventured to Mango Valley, St Mary, Jamaica with iCare. Working out of a makeshift clinic in a one-room church, she worked to address the severe shortage of vision services in the country, where 43% of the population has never received treatment for eye health problems.
Hundreds of people waited under the hot Jamaican sun every morning with the hope of receiving care from the clinic. Flexibility was key for the 48 volunteers. One morning, when the church was without power, they used flashlights to provide the best care possible. Their work paid off: over five days, they treated 2,095 patients and provided more than 3,400 pairs of prescription, reading, and sunglasses.
“I had some really meaningful moments counseling people on low vision, demonstrating how to use a white cane, and talking about strategies for their safety and independence,” says Dr. Scherer. “It was stunning to see what a huge impact we could make in the lives of people with such limited care.”
Dr. Tracy Matchinski is a seasoned veteran of international service trips, having participated in more than 25 trips since 2001. Last year, she continued this work, traveling to Cusco, Peru, and Oaxaca, Mexico through VOSH-Illinois.
Last August, Dr. Matchinski, along with 15 other volunteers, operated a mobile clinic in Cusco. Over four, 10-plus hour days, the team saw more than 1,600 patients, some of whom were bussed in from villages up to eight hours away. The volunteers provided comprehensive vision care, including visual acuity tests, auto refraction tests, eye pressure checks, and individual consultations. Patients who needed them received prefabricated or custom glasses, and those who needed ongoing care received referrals.
In November, Dr. Matchinski traveled to Oaxaca, this time with 23 other volunteers. The team treated more than 300 patients per day over four days, even as they faced challenges such as customs delaying the delivery of their exam equipment and supplies.
“On every trip, I have these moments when I realize just how important vision is. You put glasses on someone and it’s a life-changing moment,” says Dr. Matchinski. “These trips are intense both physically and emotionally, but once you do one service trip, you’re either dedicated or you never do it again. I’m dedicated.”
The Chicago Lighthouse is grateful to have two such dedicated optometrists providing critical vision care to its clinic clients.