When the opportunity arose to join a VOSH trip to Mexico this past January, I have to admit that I was a bit nervous. I hadn’t done any optometric volunteer work before and didn’t know many of the other people going on the trip. However, getting out of Minnesota in January was very tempting and I had heard great things about a coworker’s VOSH experience. I decided I was up for a little adventure and signed up.
The town we worked in, Teacapan, is located on the west coast of Mexico. We flew into Mazatlan and traveled south by bus to stay in a town called Escanupa for the first night. In addition to hosting a welcoming party, members of the local Lions Club invited us to stay at their homes while in Escunapa. We split into several groups for the night; our hosts, Pepe and Marycruz, were so kind and made us feel very welcome in their home.
The next day we took a bus further south to Teacapan. When we arrived we set up our work site at a school that was within walking distance from our hotel. One part of the main room was sectioned off for exams; to create lanes we blocked the windows with blankets and posted eye charts on each end of the room. Each of us four optometrists had a little table with the essentials: a retinoscope, skiascopy bars, ophthalmoscope, trial frame and trial lenses, and some dilation drops.
We began seeing patients on a Monday morning, following a welcome ceremony from the town. After my first few exams, I quickly learned that I needed to have a much different mindset than I would at home. Resources were limited since we only had access to what we could physically carry with us. Because of this, glasses prescriptions needed to be tailored to what we had available to give patients. Since we did not have access to an ophthalmologist, there was not much we could do to help patients with cataracts or glaucoma. There was also the language barrier issue, which thankfully we had interpreters to help us with.
Even though there were limitations to what could be done, you knew that your skills were helping improve the vision of people who had limited access to eye care. I remember being told that the population was not overly expressive with their emotions. Even so, we got many grateful smiles and thank you’s from patients. It was hard work, but very rewarding. We had our evenings and a few days after clinic ended for some rest and relaxation. In addition to the great group of people we had on our trip, we were able to spend time with a group called the Amigos de Teacapan. The organization, which is made up of retirees from the United States and Canada living in Teacapan, tries to help residents of the town with medical and educational needs. They really went above and beyond and made sure we had food (lots of food) and entertainment after work and on our days off. They also set up a great boat excursion, a whale watching trip, and a walking tour of the town.
My first VOSH trip was wonderful. I couldn’t have asked for a better group of people to share the experience with, and I loved meeting and working with the people of Teacapan. I’m hoping to go on another VOSH trip soon!
Submitted by Brook Bush
Canadian members of the group, Amigos de Teacapan in Mexico, had been trying for several years to introduce an optical program to Teacapan, Mexico. Once they made contact with Third World Eyecare, Vancouver, BC they were then referred to advise VOSH CA who then referred them to VOSH MN. Their willingness to not give up is what allowed this mission to take place!
The rest is a wonderful history of hard work with 475 e-mails linking the Lions Club of Escuinapa ex-president, Ramon Rivera, myself, Linda Taylor, and Amigos de Teacapan to the project. The Director of the “Pesca school”, Senor Topeti, provided the facilities where the optical program was conducted by our VOSH team.
Members of the Amigos de Teacapan team provided three days of lunch cooked by “Laura´s Cocina Economica”. A number of volunteers, both Canadian and American, came from their homes and winter residences to help us. Bilingual Mexican volunteers translated for our team and without their help the program would not have been so successful!
At the entrance to the school where the reception committee was to welcome the VOSH team; students, staff, and spectators were assembled to watch the school drill team perform and present the Mexican flag. It was an impressive ceremony!
The gates opened at 8:30am and people were greeted at the reception desk by Mexican, Canadian, and American volunteers who sat in the shade of a big old bus registering names and eye complaints. Unfortunately no addresses or phone numbers are available making it almost impossible in a small Mexican village to allow for follow-up care. The line of men, women, children and babies stood in the sun and in the shade of the buildings where they were to be examined. A
wheelchair from Vancouver, BC, was provided for the handicapped, the aged, and children in need.
There were five stations for the examination with the last one (dispensing) being held in a large barrack-like room where we dispensed glasses. Many people returned to the reception desk to show off their new glasses and express their gratitude by shaking hands with the volunteers. One elderly woman even danced a jig! 1800 pairs of glasses distributed plus 1700 pairs of brand new sunglasses were also distributed.
The VOSH team was graciously entertained in several winter homes of Americans in Teacapan in the evenings. There was an overflowing crowd, entertainment was provided by students of the school. Four organizations all coordinated together over many months to serve the sleepy fishing village. From the moment we started working until the end of our mission — we did not turn a single person away. There was no one left when I closed the gates on our last day. Perfect mission.
Submitted by Kirk Thomas
This trip was led by Kirk Thomas