Wanderlust: a term that many of my colleagues here at the Illinois College of Optometry know me as. Every chance I get, I am always making plans, packing bags, and taking off to any location I can whether it be locally, nationally, or internationally. As the ICO academic calendar runs quarterly, this allows for many periodic breaks which are perfect to book quick getaways for hard-working students. This past break, however, was more than just wanderlust for me. Being an active member of the student organization Student Volunteer Optometric Services to Humanity (AKA SVOSH), myself and a group of 18 other students ventured to Santo Domingo, Ecuador to give eye care to underserved populations.
We jetted off to South America’s Northeastern pocket, lucky enough to be under the lead of our esteemed and reputable professor, Dr. Tracy Matchinski, last year’s recipient for the ICO Humanitarian Award. There we met up with the rotary club of Quito, Ecuador, 13 fellow optometry students from the local Metropolitan University of Quito, 5 optometrists, and roughly 30 amazingly selfless volunteers. We set off to set up camp in a burgeoning community in Santo Domingo, truly a place in need of healthcare. I couldn’t believe my eyes as person after person filed into our pop-up clinic, so humbly eager to have their eyes examined. For many of the patients, it was their first time seeing an eye care provider. Their gratitude was indescribable, seen not only from their words, but from the tears and the joy that followed the gift of clear vision.
I won’t lie to you, days were long, sweat was in abundance, and exhaustion was a daily obstacle to overcome. However, if you presented me the opportunity to embark on a similar journey, I would do it 1,000 times over.
It wasn’t all work. As a group we were able to have a few days of sightseeing, including everything from visiting the coveted “Middle of the World” equator to spending time with nature at a hummingbird and butterfly sanctuary. Most important to me was to recap with my colleagues that in a short four-day period, we gave approximately 2,400 examinations, handed out 2,200 sunglasses (a necessity in sunny Ecuador where UV is at an all-time high), 2,000 pairs of prescription glasses, 120 cataract referrals, and
numerous cases of glaucoma, infection, inflammation detected and subsequently treated.
It was a whirlwind, vastly differing from the patient-base seen here in America. Life is different in Ecuador. Customs are different in Ecuador. Language is different in Ecuador. Obtaining healthcare is different in Ecuador. Needing healthcare is, however, universal. It was unquestionably rewarding to collectively work in unison with colleagues and mentors alike, striving to make this world a better (seeing) place.