By Linda Scherer
WINSTED, MN Since Jan Cartwright of Winsted joined VOSH-Minnesota (Volunteer Optometric Services to Humanity) three-and-a-half years ago, she has been doing her part to improve the vision of others.
She not only helps to collect and sort used eyeglasses for VOSH twice a month, but has volunteered her time and energy traveling to other countries on two separate missions that were organized specifically to help provide vision care to those who cannot afford it on their own.
Cartwright has found accommodations for the VOSH trips do not always offer modern conveniences. On her last trip to Montero, Peru there was only cold running water, and some of the volunteers had to use outdoor facilities.
But Cartwright was willing to sacrifice her comfort, plus long clinic hours, for the gratification of being able to witness firsthand the long lines of people who waited their turn to take advantage of the free vision care, and the appreciation by so many of them when their vision was improved.
Cartwright’s first mission trip was to Portoviejo, Ecuador in May 2009, where she was with a group, led by VOSH, that distributed 2,025 pairs of eyeglasses in five days.
“Since, I do not have an optometry background, I found it to be a very challenging, rewarding educational experience,” Cartwright said.
“After the doctors wrote the prescriptions, I along with others, attempted to match the prescription to the eyeglasses we had brought along. Many times, this was a very difficult procedure, but our goal was to get as close as we could.”
“The patient’s ability to see more clearly was overwhelming at times. There were many exclamations of ‘muchas gracias’ and ever so many hugs of thanks,” Cartwright said.
She found the mission so gratifying that when she returned to the US, she immediately signed up for a second mission in June of this year to Montero, Peru.
This time the group distributed 1,800 eyeglasses in four days to children as young as 3 and 4 years old, all the way up to senior citizens.
“It is so rewarding,” Cartwright said. “It just makes you cry. You get tears in your eyes because the people are so thrilled they can see to read.”
Long before the used eyeglasses reach their destination, there is a great deal of work collecting the eyeglasses and preparing them for future distribution.
Cartwright is a member of the Winsted Lions Club. It was through the Lions Club that she first learned about VOSH because the Lions Club collects and recycles eyeglasses used for the VOSH missions.
“I had heard about the missions that VOSH went on and I wanted to extend my knowledge of what happens to the eyeglasses once the Lions Club had collected them,” Cartwright said.
In Winsted, the Lions Club has containers at Dueber’s, Distinctive Dental Services, Keaveny Drug, St. Mary’s Care Center, Winsted Chiropractic, Winsted Library, and Ridgeview Clinic where anyone can drop off donated used eyeglasses.
Eyeglasses that are collected through the Lions Club and other organizations are brought to VOSH-Minnesota headquarters in Crystal.
Twice a month, Cartwright and other volunteers help sort the eyeglasses.
“We sort them and discard the items that we cannot use,” Cartwright said.
Once sorted, the donated eyeglasses are sent to a Lions Club or to inmates at a local prison, where the eyeglasses are processed to measure the strength of the glasses, and a prescription is assigned to each pair. After that, the eyeglasses are put in a sealed plastic bag.
The glasses are then returned to VOSH-Minnesota, where they are sorted into trays of bifocals, and eyeglasses for near-sightedness and far-sightedness.
When the final sorting is completed, they are sent ahead to various missions planned by VOSH International.
When VOSH volunteers arrive at the mission, a clinic is set up in a location chosen by the host of each mission. The eyeglasses have usually already been delivered.
In Montero, Cartwright said the eyeglasses arrived in November for the June mission.
The patients who arrive at the clinic first get their eyes examined using an eye chart. An interpreter is standing by to make communication easier, according to Cartwright.
The next step is to have the eyes tested using an auto refractor, which determines what prescription is needed.
Then, each patient is examined by an optometrist. On the most recent trip to Montero, Cartwright said there were four optometrists who traveled with the group, and five Canadian optometry students.
There are two more VOSH mission trips coming up in 2011 that Cartwright is once again considering.
One, in January, is to an area south of Mazatlan, Mexico; and next summer, the mission group might go back to Ecuador or possibly a different mission in Venezuela.
Cartwright hasn’t made a final decision on any of the trips.
“I am thinking about it,” Cartwright said. “We have to pay for our whole trip for our lodging, food, and our airfare. I will have to see how much money it is and how much I can save.”
VOSH is always looking for volunteers, according to Cartwright. More information about upcoming trips, and answers to frequently asked questions about VOSH should go to www.voshminnesota.org.
Work sessions take place at the office of Dr. Jim Hess, 5200 Douglas Drive, Crystal, MN 55429 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. on the first and third Tuesday of each month.
More about VOSH
VOSH was organized in 1972 by a Kansas optometrist, Dr. Franklin Harms. Since that time, it has become the leading professional provider of volunteer vision care to developing countries of the world.
VOSH volunteers include optometrists, opticians, ophthalmologists, medical personnel, and trained lay persons who have no political or religious agenda.
VOSH-Minnesota is one of 32 state chapters and 18 student chapters in the US, Canada, Honduras, India, Africa, and the Netherlands.