In Haitian ministry, the ‘eyes’ have it

By May 29, 2013

Haiti (MNN) — This story is written from a personal perspective from one of our staff writers, Lyndsey Gammage, a student at Taylor University. She's helping us out while she's home on break:

I've been working with MNN for 2 years, so I see a lot of similar stories come across my desk.
Normally this would be another news story, but I’m going to interject some personal connection because this story really hits home for me. Literally.

My dad is an eye doctor, so eye care was always a given in our house. If I need more contacts, ordering new ones is as easy as stepping into my dad’s study. If I get pink eye, the medicine drops are in my dad’s bathroom drawer right next to his shaver and comb.

But it’s far more difficult for 131 developing countries that share 5% of the world’s eye doctors. In Haiti, the situation is extreme with 1 optometrist for every 180,000 residents.

For me? I think I’ve taken my eye exams for granted. In fact, few things get me more excited than knowing I need an eye exam, because it means my dad takes me on a “father-daughter date” to dinner and then to his office to check my eyes–unless I need to get the “puff test” where a machine puffs air on your eye to measure something I’m sure is unnecessary. Then I am less than pleased.

But in a nation like Haiti, many families have to choose between food that day or getting their eyes examined. I can understand how in those situations, eye care would be pushed to the side.

Jeff VanDerMolen with Kids Alive International says, “About half of primary-aged children [in Haiti] do not go to school. Only about 60% stay enrolled through sixth grade. If [children have] trouble with their vision, that’s one thing that would take them out of the classroom, which would really affect their whole life: job opportunities, further education.”

I get that. Third grade was rough for me because gradually I couldn’t read what the teacher wrote on the board. Because of this, I got distracted and my grades went down. If I lived in Haiti with half of my friends not even in school, I’d probably be tempted to skip out altogether.

But I got glasses and went on to graduate high school, attend college, and discover my love for writing. Eye care enabled my education. I’m literally realizing this as I write these words and reflect on how different my life could’ve been.

And how different things are for so many kids who simply need quality eye care.

That’s why I think it’s so cool that Kids Alive did something in Haiti to help kids like me who needed eye care to succeed in school.

I’ll let VanDerMolen tell you about it: “We work with a little over 140 children in a very poor area in northern Haiti…. We worked with four specific kids between the ages of 6 and 15. Two of these children had crossed eyes, one of them had another case in which one eyelid was not opening fully, and then another one of the girls in our community lost her eye in an accident several years ago and was not receiving good care for that eye.

“Particularly with crossed eyes, one of the things that happens is that one eye becomes dominant and the other eye really loses its ability to see because it’s not being used. So the sooner that’s corrected, the sooner those two eyes begin to work together.

“We had a visiting team from HCJB Global–HCJB has a medical component to their ministry–and they helped bring to our attention to the possibility of care for these kids. They [provided] some funding that allowed us to step into this need. It’s not something we were able to accomplish in Haiti, so we identified in the Dominican Republic a very good eye hospital.

“We brought the kids over to Elias Santana Hospital [earlier this month]. It’s a ministry hospital with a mission to provide the highest care of medical eye care for the poorest in the country…. Several of the kids will come back for some continued care next month in June, and that will be their final care. The ongoing condition then will be continued recovery.”

And just like my dad cares for my eyes and encourages me in my walk with the Lord, Kids Alive wants to do more than just make sure these kids’ eyes are okay.

“Our opportunity to impact those kids is through our school and because of this eye surgery, their ability to continue on in school exists,” says VanDerMolen. “In our school, we share the Gospel with these children. We understand the need they have to know Christ, and this eye care really provides us with the ongoing opportunity to be plugged into their lives and the lives of their families.”

If you’re touched by this story and don’t want to take your blessings for granted, you can do something about it!

Kids Alive has child sponsorships for $39 a month. It really does cause a ripple effect when you impact the course of a kid’s life and embrace them with access to care and Christ’s love. Click here to sponsor a child with Kids Alive.

I for one will be much more thankful next time I sit in my dad’s eye exam chair–“puff test” and all.

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