Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Amigos Trip Update: El Salavador (Guest Blogger Kate Dalrymple)

AMIGOS Eye Care is a non-profit organization of students, doctors and lay people affiliated with Pacific. AMIGOS is dedicated to providing quality vision care at no cost to underserved people in the Portland area and throughout the world. Since its establishment in 1975, AMIGOS has grown to become one of the largest eye care providing organizations in the world, bringing services to thousands of people at home and abroad.

Because so many prospective students are interested in AMIGOS, I have decided to ask 4 current students, who went on recent AMIGOS trips over Spring Break, to share their stories.  I hope you enjoy the series, the fourth and final of which is being written by current student, and AMIGOS member, Kate Dalrymple!

Hi everyone!  My name is Kate and I am a second year optometry student.  I am from a small town in Northern British Columbia, where my favourite past time is horseback riding.  During my first year at Pacific University I became a member of the Amigos club. It is a wonderful club to be a part of because I know we can make a difference in people’s lives.
Me and my favorite El Salvadorian girl!

Spring break is usually my time for relaxing, having fun with friends, and baking cookies.  But this year I decided to try something different.  I joined a team of eight optometry students and one doctor on an Amigos adventure to the smallest and most densely populated nation in Central America, El Salvador.  It was the best decision I ever made! 

Our trip began with a little rest and relaxation.  For two days we were spoiled at an All Inclusive where we explored the beautiful beaches of Usulutan, joined a water aerobics class, and went jet-skiing.   
Water aerobics at our All Inclusive

Reality set in when we arrived at our village “hotel” where we were greeted by an armed guard.  Our hotel was surrounded by a chain-link fenced topped with razor-sharp barbed wire.   I was looking forward to a hot shower, but all we had was one toilet, one sink, and one cold shower for five women.  The cold shower was a wonderful surprise as the humidity was extremely high.

When we arrived at our first clinic in Estanzuelas, there were already at least a hundred people lined up patiently waiting for us.  They were dressed in their best clothes, and many had walked for miles to see us.  They were very friendly and welcoming, happy to have us in their community.  Although very few of us spoke Spanish, we were able to communicate.  The El Salvadorian doctors told us that 17% of the population live in extreme poverty; 63% survive on only $2.00 or less a day.

The line up in Estanzuelas stretched around the corner and down the street

Local baby in his bath!

We visited a different village each day and had five clinic days in total.  Each day we joined a team of two El Salvadorian doctors and ten technicians.  We saw many different eye diseases, such as: pterygiums, pingueculae, strabismus, hypertropia, dense cataracts, orbital cellulitis, intermittent esotropia, toxoplasmosis, iris colobomas, and many more.
Iris Coloboma

Zach determining a reading glass prescription

As a team we saw a total of 1980 patients, referred 268 of these patients for consults with the Ophthalmologist, and dispensed over 1000 pairs of glasses.
Team USA (and Canada) + Team El Salvador = Awesome Team Work!!!

Of all the hundreds and hundreds of patients I saw, a few in particular stand out in my memories.  I was deeply touched by this one older patient.  After giving her an eye examination to determine her prescription, she broke down in tears after seeing clearly for the first time.  She gave me a big hug.  Even though I don’t speak Spanish, I knew she was thanking me profusely!

Each day, many kids waited patiently with their families to get their glasses. I always got an extra smile when I gave them a pencil and a sucker.

I am very thankful I was able to go on this trip.  It was a life changing experience that I will never forget and I can’t wait to go again next year!

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