Editor’s note: Dr. Laura Young, an optometrist at Premier Family Eye Care, traveled to Dessalines, Haiti, March 17 to 24. Working with another optometrist from Ohio and 10 others, the group saw 400 Haitians at the clinic, providing them with eyeglasses, sunglasses and medicine.
Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere and the third poorest in the world. The experience touches all five of your senses. There is no place in the United States that even compares to life there. It was very sad to see thousands and thousands of people still living in tent cities in Port Au Prince and signs of the terrible destruction from the earthquake in January 2010. Almost every person that we met was in affected by the earthquake. It is going to take years for Haiti to even come close to recovery. One sign of hope is that many aid workers from all of the world are still traveling there to try to help the dire need. Without help from others, the Haitians have a very dim future.
This trip was incredibly rewarding. It was so nice to see many old friends I met on my last trip in 2009 and I also had the chance to meet many new friends. The people are so thankful for the help of Americans bringing assistance. We saw people from ages 2 months all the way to 91 years old with a variety of eye conditions. Cataracts were probably the eye disease that we saw most commonly; unfortunately, the people there do not have access to cataract surgeons on a regular basis. With that being the case, many people are legally blind or completely blind from cataracts, which is easily corrected here in the United States.
Another issue that almost all people experienced there was dry and itchy eyes. The spring is their windy season and every day there were incredible wind storms that kicked up so much dust and debris that at times you couldn’t see 4 to 5 feet in front of you in the afternoon’s worst wind gusts. In this type of environment where most roads are not paved – garbage, sewage and debris is everywhere – this creates a terrible issue for people’s eyes. Simple artificial tear eye drops were so appreciated by the people to be able to lubricate and rinse their eyes. They do not have access to these types of drops on a regular basis, so we were able to give out more than 1,000 bottles of artificial tears.
Access to health care is probably one of the biggest issues in Haiti. Many people have to travel 50 miles or more to go to a hospital. Travel is done by foot, a moped, or a ‘tap tap’ which is their version of a taxi. A ‘tap tap’ is a small pickup truck with a cap on the back and seats that usually transports at least 20 Haitians all piled in the back traveling down un-paved dirt roads. People often wait until a problem is really severe before they try to seek help; we saw things there that you would almost never see in the United States because people would seek health care before it got really bad.
There are actual stories and pictures of some of the people that we helped at our eye clinic on my blog at www.premierfamilyeye.com. The Haitian’s are a really kind, faithful, and appreciative people. If you have ever thought about helping others in need, I encourage you to do that whether it is your next door neighbor or it involves taking a trip to a third-world country. One of the missionaries on the trip shared, “you cannot do all the good that the world needs, but the world needs all the good that you can do.” Helping and serving others is one of the most rewarding things you can do; the person doing the serving is usually blessed as much or more than the person receiving the help. I hope to return to Haiti in the future to continue mission work there.
Dr. Laura Young