The Rotary Club of Edmonton West

Guatemala Eye Project

partnering with the Rotary Club of Huehuetenango

January 5 - 14, 2019
 
On January 4th Ben, Marley, Lorne, Duane, Cathie, Al, Karen, Fred and Annie headed to Huehuetenango, Guatemala for the 22nd annual Eye Project.
 
Our journey began in Edmonton with all of the luggage and equipment we would need for the trip. We left Edmonton late at night and arrived in Toronto the following morning. I have to say we all looked a little tired. We got our energy back in Mexico City where we celebrated with some refreshments:) Upon arriving in Guatemala City we learned that our medical equipment didn't. It was still in Mexico. After all of the luggage tags were checked and forms were filled out we were able to meet our enthusiastic welcoming party.
 
In the morning Ben and Lorne stayed behind to sort out the lost luggage and the rest of the team, including Carlos, the lead Ophthalmologist proceeded to Antigua. We set up a clinic in a school for disabled children of single mothers and orphans. Incidentally, the Rotary Club of Canmore helps to fund this school.
 
 
When we arrived, the people had been waiting patiently for some time. We set up the clinic and began to see patients as soon as we could with the help of Carlos, his daughter and 2 second year ophthalmology students. In the meantime, Ben and Lorne were dealing with customs in Guatemala City. The officers checked every single sample and piece of equipment. But finally they were on there way and joined the team. 
 
 
During that half day clinic we saw 67 patients. The children and adults suffered from a number of various conditions. We dispensed medication, handed out reading glasses and took orders for prescription glasses. The team worked tirelessly and the clinic was a success.
 
 
We then headed back to Carlos' house and met the members from the Rotary Club of Huehuetenango. We shared some refreshments and met our host families. 
 
Bright and early the next morning we traveled to La Libertad where we would work for the next 3 days. The village was very isolated and situated on the side of a mountain at an elevation of about 5,643 feet. The roads were incredibly steep and it took a lot of skill to get the van and the truck to the clinic which was, of course, at the highest point in the village. 
 
 
When we arrived there was a long line waiting for us. Our clinic was situated in a school that was quite difficult to access. There were uneven and crumbling concrete stairs which was not ideal for the patients with vision and mobility issues. Once we had found out which electrical outlets worked we set up our equipment and got to work. We saw children, seniors and everything in between. Most commonly we treated infections, but we also diagnosed  cataracts, glaucoma and normal retinal conditions. This was in addition to a host of refractive conditions. 
 
 
After seeing 145 patients in our first clinic the team returned to our hotel rooms. The hotel was unfinished, some rooms with no running water, no bedding and working toilets. There was also a very strong and secure metal cage attached to the wall in the rooms......we decided that would be a great place to put your rooster;) So the next day, after a fitful sleep and a breakfast of eggs and toast we tackled the clinic with renewed energy and enthusiasm. It was a long day and 183 patients were seen and treated. 
 
 
During any international projects there are those moments when you see instantly the difference you are making to the lives of the people you are helping. There are also the heartbreaking moments when you realize there is nothing you can do. The picture below illustrates both of these scenarios. 
 
 
In the picture on the left a mother had brought her son in as he had very poor sight and she was full of hope that we could help. Unfortunately, Carlos was giving her the news that nothing could be done and that he would loose his sight completely. He will not be able to finish school, work or lead a productive life. Devastating for him and his family. In the picture on the right the gentleman was given reading glasses. He was so happy and grateful that he went round to all of the volunteers to thank them personally. These glasses will change his life and improve his outcome.
 
 
All of the accommodations and food arrangements had been organized by the Rotary Club of HueHueTenango. They took very good care of us and our sensitive digestive systems. Special care was taken to make us food that we could eat and the couple in the top centre picture did a fabulous job. The lunches they brought to the school were delicious. 
 
 
On our last day in La Libertad we ran a half day clinic and saw 165 patients. In the picture on the top right is Carlos's wife Katina and their grandchildren. Their son in law, who is a dentist, ran a clinic as well. He pulled about 8 teeth that morning! 
 
 
After the clinic was over we packed up and headed back to HueHueTenango and our billets. We attended the Rotary meeting that evening and were treated to a lovely meal. 
 
 
President Hugo presented Lorne with the receipt for our donation for the volcano relief fund. He expressed his gratitude on behalf of the club. The money will help to rebuild a home. Ben spoke about how our clubs are forever linked by the good work that has been done and the commitment to service above self over the past 22 years. We celebrated the friendships that have been built between our two clubs. 
 
 
Our next clinic was located in Casa Grande, in Union Cantinil. It was going to be a long and difficult drive so we left at the crack of dawn. The roads were to say the least challenging as we climbed over the Cuchumatan Mountain Range and Ben needed nerves of steel to navigate our van on the steep, muddy and narrow roads.
 
 
Unfortunately, Carlos wasn't able to help us with the clinics as he needed to go to the hospital. Luckily another Optician was able to join us.
 
 
Once we finally arrived, a little late, we set up our clinic in the Community Centre. It was cold, damp and dirty but we got to work setting up the workflow and organizing the patients. The towns people were concerned that because we were late that we wouldn't get through the long list of patients.....we assured them that we would work late until everyone was taken care of. With humour and determination we got down to work. 
 
 
We saw 115 patients that afternoon. They were seen for glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, infections, and cataracts. A Pediatrician who was part of our team spent his time counseling non-compliant diabetic patients for most of the day. Karen brought several bins full of things to entertain the children. She tirelessly gave out stickers, made bracelets and headbands and made everyone smile.
 
 
Once again, Guatemalan hospitality was evident and as well as the usual rice and chicken, we were served the most delicious potatoes. After a lovely meal we were taken on a tour of the town where we stumbled upon a band playing in a garage. Naturally, we invited ourselves in and danced to a Guatemalan polka in true Canadian style.
 
 
Interpreters were an invaluable part of our team and we were lucky to have two young men who made our jobs so much easier. Interpretation is everything!! Fred was fitting glasses for a lady as you can see in the bottom middle picture above. He had given her the prescription indicated by Ben on her card, and was asking her through the interpreter if she could read what was on the card. She said "No". He then double checked the prescription, gave her a different pair of glasses and tried again. She said "No". Fred then went back to ask Ben if he was misreading the prescription....no, Ben assured him that it was correct. Fred then went back to the lady and tried again. No luck. It was then that Fred realized, through the interpreter that the glasses were perfect.....she just couldn't read! HaHaHa.
 
 
Our second clinic in Union Cantinil got underway early the next day and we saw more of the same problems. In order to drive back down the mountain in daylight we needed to leave by 2 o'clock. The team saw 158 patients before we packed up and headed out. That was our last clinic of the trip. I have to say that I was quite sad and felt that I wanted to keep going. There was so much need in these small isolated towns. In total we saw 841 patients, dispensed medication, gave out reading glasses, ordered prescription glasses to be sent from Canada and booked 44 cataract surgeries. The Edmonton West and Huehuetenango teams worked hard, side by side to see as many people as we could. 
 
 
Guatemala is bright, energetic and colourful. We saw mountains, isolated plateaus and powerful volcanoes. But the people are what make Guatemala such a special place. They are friendly, helpful and welcomed us with open arms. Many of the patients we saw were quick to smile and laugh. It was a pleasure to spend time with them. 
 
 
We said goodbye to Huehuetenango and headed to Guatemala City. On the way we visited Carlos in hospital and found him in good spirits and healing well. 
 
 
RI President, Barry Rassin wants us to Be the Inspiration for positive change, inspiring our clubs, our communities, and our organization to face today’s challenges head on, with courage, optimism, and creativity. 
 
The Guatemala Eye Project encompassed all of those things. The team gave everything they had to improve the lives of others and we did it with a smile. We found fellowship and friendship and built connections in these isolated communities.
 
As President Rassin said, "Rotary gives us the chance to be part of a global network of people who have the talent and the drive to change the world. We are men and women who believe in the power of community action to make a global impact — and together, we have the capacity and the resources to achieve almost anything.
 
I was honoured and grateful to be part of this dynamic team.


 

 
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