Please Welcome Guest Blogger Shannon Avery! Her family was on a "mission" to bring glasses to Peru! Here is her wonderful story!
Our Glasses for Peru trip was a great success! I was humbled by the number of glasses donated by kind-hearted people, and was amazed by all the places the glasses came from. I received emails, Facebook messages, and packages of glasses from people I don’t know and have never met. It’s a beautiful thing when people hear of a need and just reach out to help.
In the weeks leading up to the trip we were blessed to have two eye doctors allow us to use their equipment to read the prescriptions of our donated glasses. This made the task of finding the right glasses during our clinics so much easier! I think it would have been practically impossible to meet the needs of the people who walked into our clinics if we had not known the strengths of the glasses we received. Special thanks to Dr. David Brockbank at Olympus Eye Associates and Dr. Jodi Johnson at Riverton Family Eye Care for allowing me to spend hours (and even days!) reading the prescriptions for our donated glasses. We truly could not have held successful clinics in Peru without your generosity.
In the end, we took over 1,200 pairs of glasses. We received donations of reading glasses, bifocals, prescription sunglasses, prescription goggles (for car mechanics, etc.), distance vision glasses, and just about every other kind of glasses you can imagine. And they came from all over – Tennessee, Canada, Alabama, Florida, California, Utah, and Maryland, just to name a few. It was a miracle!
Before we came to Peru, a friend told us about a condition calledPterygium which is caused from spending a lot of time outside in the sun, wind and dust. To protect the eye, a layer of skin begins to grow from the inside of the eye near the nose. Left unchecked this layer of skin can continue to grow until it covers the eyeball and makes it impossible to see anymore. Sunglasses with 100% UV protection will help the condition to slow or stop growing completely (it can only be removed with surgery). Most of the sunglasses you see for sale in Peru do not have UV protection, so those glasses end up acting like a magnifying glass and making the condition worse. It’s better to not wear sunglasses than to wear them without UV protection. Jake (my son who lived in Peru for two years) told us that he never knew what the condition was called, but he saw it a lot, especially in a little fishing village where we were planning to hold one of our clinics.
Our friend also told us that almost all the people coming through his clinics had needed reading glasses. At that point, we only had about 50 pairs of reading glasses donated, and only a couple of pairs of sunglasses. This made me panic a little.
With this new information, we knew we needed lots more sunglasses and reading glasses. Thankfully, the Dollar Store has UV protected sunglasses and many strengths of reading glasses. With money we’d made selling missionary products on this website, we were able to purchase hundreds of pairs of sunglasses and reading glasses for our trip. In addition, we had a huge donation of sunglasses and reading glasses from our friend Tom Rush at Rush Plumbing, and we were delighted that Tom was willing to come to Peru with us and help with the clinics!
In the days leading up to the trip, we cleaned and packaged all the glasses. Many of the donated glasses came with cases, which was so great. We packaged the ones we bought in plastic bags to keep them from being scratched in transit. We also took some care packages to deliver to missionaries in the the five Lima LDS Missions and the Cusco Mission, as well as five laptop computers that were donated for us to give to a school in Huacho, Peru. Altogether, we had 12 large suitcases, and 6 backpacks. It was a sight!
The day for our departure arrived. When the boys got out of school, we loaded down our 12 passenger van (lovingly named the “Bumble” because it’s huge and and made it to Las Vegas in plenty of time for our flight.
We had an eight hour layover in Mexico City, so after clearing all our bags through customs, we took a taxi to Teotihuacan(Pyramid of the Sun). After our adventure and a delicious Mexican meal back at the airport, we boarded our flight to Lima. Having taken the red eye from Las Vegas and spending the day hiking around, we all slept the whole flight to Peru and landed after dark. It was tricky getting through customs because they thought we were going to try to sell the glasses. Thankfully, Jake can speak Spanish and he was able to convince them (after a tense 30 minutes of interviews, combing through our bags several times, and them disappearing with Jake’s passport) that we were honestly giving the glasses away at free clinics.
We were met at the airport by several of Jake’s friends from his mission. They helped us get transportation to the house where we were staying, and a couple of them came with us to make sure we got there safe and sound.
Our first couple of days were spent visiting and attending church with people Jake had taught and become friends with during his missionary service. Then, on day three, we drove to Vegueta, about 2 hours north of Lima, for our first eye clinic. I loved this place! The town was small, humble and quiet. And the people were so friendly and appreciated the glasses so much. Two of Jake’s Peruvian friends and some very dedicated missionaries came to help us with the clinic. We couldn’t have pulled it off without them! We learned so much at our first clinic, which helped make the later ones easier.
We saw literally hundreds of cases of Pterygium in Vegueta, I’m sure because it’s right on the water and most people either fish or farm for a living. In the end, we gave all the sunglasses we’d brought with us to people in Vegueta who had some degree of Pterygium. When we ran out, we had to just educate the rest of them about the importance of wearing sunglasses with UV protection (and say a little prayer in our hearts that they would be able to get them). It was really heartbreaking to see someone so close to losing their vision from Pterygium and having no more sunglasses to give them. But there are so many happy stories too.
Our next eye clinic was in Ventanilla, a suburb of Lima. It was the most populated area we visited, and it was a VERY hot day. We didn’t have the rental car anymore, so we had to take two taxis with all the glasses – an adventure! Thankfully, Jake’s friends and two different sets of missionaries were there to help us. The city was so busy that it seemed like nobody could tell that we were holding a clinic. So Jared and Brig made a poster and put it out on the gate, then tons of people started coming in. Because it’s surrounded by businesses, there were lots of people who came in on their lunch and dinner breaks. It was really neat when we were leaving that night, to walk by shops and see people who’d come to get glasses working inside Ventanilla was our busiest clinic, having served at least 400 people.
The last clinic was in Puente Piedra, another suburb of Lima. We had lots of help at this clinic, from Jake’s friends, people from the church where the clinic was held, more missionaries, and friends of from our daughter’s mission in Chile. This clinic was interesting because it was our third, so we had our system down and were able to get people through in really good time. But, being our last clinic, we were running very low on our distance glasses. And the tricky thing with the distance glasses is that we just had to take what was donated and had no way of getting more of any particular size, like we were easily able to do with the reading glasses. So the challenge in Puente Piedra was not having the needed prescriptions for the people who needed distance glasses. Don’t get me wrong, we were able to give away at least 50 pairs of distance glasses, but it felt like we also had to turn away several dozen people because we didn’t have what they needed. That was my least favorite part of the whole experience. The positive side was that we had plenty of reading glasses for everyone who needed them. And we were even able to leave what was left at the end of the night with the stake president who is now planning to hold a free eye clinic with his family, so they can give away the rest.
The thing that struck me the most about holding the eye clinics was how much we felt like God was helping us. From the very beginning when we were trying to figure out how on earth to give life to the idea we had in our minds, opening the mailbox day after day to find donated glasses inside, and finding places to have the clinics and people who were willing to help, to getting the glasses through customs and all over the place without losing or damaging any of them, and having exactly what so many people needed. I will share a few of the remarkable things we saw:
A woman came in with a severe loss of vision in one eye and perfect vision in the other. I remembered having found a pair of glasses like that when I was reading prescriptions at Dr. Brockbank’s office and wondering if I should even bother taking them because of the unlikelihood of finding someone who needed them. After searching through all my bags of glasses, I found that pair, and it was exactly what this woman needed. She had never had a pair of glasses in her life, and was finally able to see equally out of both eyes. I’d guess she was about 30 years old.
One old man in Vegueta made a real impression on all of us. When he walked in the door for his assessment, he couldn’t see where the eye chart was on the wall. I don’t mean he couldn’t see the letters on the chart…I mean he couldn’t even see where the chart was hanging. In addition to giving him a pair of sunglasses for severe Pterygium, we gave him the strongest pair of prescription distance glasses we’d brought with us. Within seconds of putting them on, tears started to trickle down his face as he said (in Spanish), “I don’t remember the last time I could see.” Then he read the first four lines on the eye chart
A family came in consisting of a grandmother, mother and son. Within just a couple of minutes we found a pair of glasses for each of them, and they were so excited and thankful that they stayed and helped us with the rest of our clinic.
A charismatic, hard working missionary came to help with one of our clinics. He didn’t speak English but was eager to do whatever he could, so we taught him how to do a simple distance eye exam. As he started helping with the eye exams for other people, he realized he couldn’t read very far on the chart at that distance (20 feet) either. So we did a quick check, determined he did need glasses, and the first pair he tried on were perfect for him! He was so excited and worked tirelessly for hours to help us find glasses that would make that kind of difference to someone else.
There are hundreds of stories like these, but the overarching similarity is that people came with specific needs and, 9 times out of 10, God was able to meet their needs with the little offering of glasses that we brought with us. It goes all the way back to one person hearing we were taking glasses to Peru, deciding they would send their glasses to me, those glasses being the exact pair that a person in Peru needed, that specific person in Peru showing up to the eye clinic, and the person helping them at the clinic finding that exact pair of donated glasses that was needed. I don’t believe there are coincidences in any of this. I saw God’s love right before my eyes, and I can never deny that each of His children is equally precious to Him.
I’ll sum up with an experience from our last clinic, the night before we came home. A quiet missionary from Peru asked his companion to translate a message for me. He said, “Sister, I want to thank you for what you have done for these people in my country. Most people don’t care and don’t try to help. I will never forget what you have done today, and it makes me want to do more things to help other people. I welcome you in my country and in my home forever.”
I thank all of you who donated glasses and purchased from MissionaryExchanges.com. The project wouldn’t have happened without you! And I am so grateful for the opportunity that my family had to travel to Peru and make a small difference there. The things I saw, the people I met, and the experiences I had have changed me forever. This is only the first of many more “Glasses for Friends” trips!