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About three weeks ago the DIFF team was introduced a young woman who is revolutionizing and enhancing our charitable efforts. Reaching as many people as possible, and providing the gift of sight to those in need is our goal with DIFF. However, to reach these people in such a far away continent has proven to be quite difficult without the help of dedicated selfless people like the one who you are about to meet in this latest entry. The following post is a key feature by Kelsey Sabo, a Peace Corp volunteer, who's focusing on teaching literacy and empowerment to children in Uganda. Please check out her blog below to learn more about all the amazing projects she's making possible.
March 10th, 2016: Seeing is Believing Author: Kelsey Sabo
During my peace corps interview, the recruiter asked me the question, “What is one thing you have taken for granted?” Or maybe it was, “What is one thing you think people take for granted?” Whichever it was, I had sat through about forty questions and knew I shouldn’t repeat an answer I had already said so I responded, “Vision.” As the word left my mouth for the first time the realization of its honesty hit me simultaneously. As a young girl who was diagnosed with Rapid Eye Loss, or a spontaneous and inexplicable loss of eyesight, I went from no glasses to -7.50 vision over the course of a few years. To this day, without my glasses or contacts, I cannot see the numbers on the hand you’re holding up two feet from my face, my friends’ faces sitting beside me, nor the “Big E.” Thankfully, I had concerned, college-educated, health conscious, and financially capable parents who cared for me while being raised in a high GDP country so they could provide me glasses and contacts (and hundreds of co-pays for my endless ophthalmologist visits) throughout my life. I am a lucky one. I often contemplate the thought of the human spirit and consider that among all the stars and atoms in this universe, I happened to be placed into the body and life I have been privileged to live. Now had my soul been plopped into a different body, maybe one of a middle-class Syrian girl, a black Muslim-American in an upstate New York small-town, or a Ugandan girl from Pajulu Village, there is no doubt that my past 23 years would have been different, for better or for worse. Mind you, the longer I live here and the more I travel the world, the more I realize how incredibly similar my life would have been as well. Regardless, and no matter where I could have ended up, there is no guarantee that anyone would have cared about my health, my nutrition, or my struggles in school. There is no guarantee that I would have stayed with loving parents or relatives or have a roof over my head at night. And there is no guarantee that when my eyesight plummeted and I stopped being able to see the blackboard, or my feet below me for that matter, that anyone would have noticed, responded, or cared.
Unless, that is, there happened to be a human at my school who embodied the spirit of OR just so happened to “cross paths” with an company such as DIFF. Which brings me to right now and today which was quite possibly my favorite day I have ever had at my school (judging by the cooperation, encouragement, and interest of my all my teachers, I know they would say the same). While there were several phone calls, messages, meetings, changes, reschedulings, dropped phone calls, airtime crises, miscommunications, confusions, and logistical errors leading up to today, IT WAS INCREDIBLE. A calm day filled with new celebratory energy I’ve yet to experience here; no, there were no marching bands, goats slaughtered in celebration, or hours of speeches by government officials. Instead, two of the head eye specialists of Arua District, Simon and Erasmus, got out of a white SUV at 9am, shook my hand, smiled and said, “Where can we begin?” As we chatted and set-up the classroom, I knew today was going to be great. I could just feel the positive energy beaming out of these two doctors, especially Simon whose glowing grin and bellowing laugh reminded me of every father-like loving man I have ever known in my life (I gave him a bear hug hours later when he departed).
A low-key yet life-changing day unfolded before us. We entered each classroom gave two speeches, one in Lugbara and one in English, then rotated through groups of ten so as to not disturb the ongoing lessons. Much to all of our surprise, the kids were overwhelmed with excitement to come to us and check their eyes. Since we learned that many kids are illiterate and cannot identify letters, we stuck to the Big “E” chart and children pointed to the direction the legs were facing (instead of feeling defeated by not knowing a letter).
As I sat on the floor, filming this magnificent event, I watched the little kids swing their outstretched legs in an attempt to touch the floor as they covered one eye, pointing in various directions and smiling ear-to-ear. I knew these eye exams could be empowering for the children who would eventually receive glasses to help them see and learn in school but what I didn’t realize is that the other pupils without eye problems would also feel empowered. Everytime they swayed their arm in the correct direction they received an “Uh huh!” and for once they weren’t being told that they were wrong. They weren’t being told what was wrong with them, whether their clothes or hair or shoes or religion or gender. For once they were told they would be “okay” then they were thanked for taking ownership of their health and participating today. The kids then strutted up to the registration book and said their name with an audible, clear voice and boldly, even those who needed further examination, which is unbelievable here. This was a profoundly enlightening experience for me.
The day was filled with laughs and smiles, referral cards and minor seat arrangements, and even a videography crew as we interviewed pupils and teachers. I speak for every individual involved when I say that we all learned something today. I listened to my teachers admit that they don’t know how to accommodate for the pupils who struggle to see and they they are so thankful to learn how to do this eye exam. I watched my counterpart Emma take over halfway through the day and conduct eye exams alongside the two doctors. Sustainability. My few pupils with refractive errors shared that they didn’t know what was wrong with them, they just accepted that they were a “dull child” as they had been told they were all their life. Now there is hope for them. Another pupil even shared that he knew he had problems seeing but he didn’t want to burden his Auntie with the trouble because she can hardly pay his school fees anyways. The health workers told me this is the first school outreach they had done in many years and they enjoyed it so much they are volunteering to return tomorrow. A teacher and mother of Dougie (the wandering soul), told me that her son’s eyes are perfectly healthy and normal he just has Downsyndrome and cannot learn. We later talked to the health workers who explained that glasses CAN help and he can improve his learning no matter his abilities, she was gratefully surprised and my heart filled to degrees I’ve experienced few times in life as I watched her receive this news. Hope.
Which brings me to tomorrow, when we will have a mass assembly about eye health and hand-washing then examine the upper primary pupils while the television station comes to cover the event. All of this, and I mean 100% ALL OF THIS, would not have happened without the crew at DIFF Eyewear, who has encouraged me to figure all of this out, energized me in doing so, and above all, will be funding the entire two days of exams. And no, not because I asked them but because they asked me. Their entirely cause-based organization is centered around the drive to provide eyesight to those who can’t easily access it like in my community in Uganda. I am blown away by the hearts and souls in these boys I have encountered and I cannot wait to bring this effort around the town, region, and country. These DIFF boys with dreams are slowly but surely instilling dreams in boys and girls across my school and I’d be lying if I said it didn’t bring tears to my eye today. Keep it up, gang, we got a lotta eyes to test on this continent. Let’s go.
So, here’s to tomorrow. Here's to passionate, caring, driven professionals both near and far. Here's to those who are making dreams become a reality. Most importantly here is to those kids and adults across this world seeing and believing in a brighter future for themselves. Peace, love and light my friends.
Please look deeper into Kelsey's blog here: Click Here to Visit Kelsey's Blog