Shane Stevens and classmate Denis Shlosman, Class of 2018, were chosen by AOSA and AOA leaders to join a team of 25 optometric students on a OneSight clinic in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania in May. OneSight is a leading organization in providing sustainable vision care solutions to communities around the world. Since 1988, they have helped 9 million people in 46 different countries see more clearly through vision care and glasses. This trip marked the first time optometric students were invited to attend.
On the Tanzania service trip, Shane and Denis worked along side a team of Luxottica-affiliated ODs to provide comprehensive eye care to the local community. They also worked with a group of Luxottica and local volunteers to fit frames, and to manufacture and dispense new eyewear to those without access to eye care in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania. Below, Shane describes his experiences.
The sky thundered. It was momentary, but predictable, preluded by the thickening humid air. From inside the building, I sensed the dimming of daylight. Even over the chaos of a hundred voices, an incongruous jumble of Swahili and English, I could still hear the fierce crack of the clouds opening.
What came next was always the same: a torrential downpour that would shake the earth, flicker the lights madly, and then turn the entire building dark, leaving us to work only with the fleeting light that shone through the few windows.
In the face of challenge, only those that adapt survive and so we did. Ophthalmoscopes became flashlights, transilluminators illuminated tumbling ‘E’s, and those individuals manning the auto-refractors pulled out lens-racks from their holsters like wanna-be gunslingers of the wild west.
The clinic flowed on, remarkably unfazed. After about ten minutes the rain would stop on a dime, the clouds running off to torment different parts of Dar El Salaam, and we were left with the good fortune of cool air and the return of the all-elusive electricity.
After one of the aforementioned storms had just passed, and I was reviewing the hastily scribbled words on a patient’s chart with a flashlight, when Dr. Ben Chudner, a senior Luxottica director, tapped me on the shoulder, asking to borrow me for a second.
I had been telling the doctors since the clinic started that I brought some low vision devices with me from Boston, donated by Dr. Nicole Ross. Luckily one of them was actually listening.
I grabbed Lananh Ngo, a recent Salus graduate with interest in low vision, and the bag of random powered hand magnifiers and monocular telescopes. Dr. Chudner explained to us that there was an elderly woman patiently waiting for us in the dispensary. He had just put in the order for her new -18.00 glasses, which would be made back in the United States and then shipped to Tanzania since their power far exceeded what we carried in stock for minus lenses. He explained to us that in the meantime, with her myopic degeneration, she would benefit from a magnifier to help ease her reading. At this point, she was capable of reading only if holding her reading material centimeters from her face.
The patient sat a table against a far wall, her hands folded in the square of light cast from a narrow window. She laid on a thick grin as we approached the table and nodded to us. “Hello” she said, with the confidence of an English speaker.
I emptied the bag of hand magnifiers and handed her the highest mag lens. It proved to be too strong. With little guidance she cycled through the others, testing their working distances. The next three were too strong as well. I was beginning to lose hope that we even had something that she could use. When she picked up the last one, which had the lowest mag, and held it over the paper, she paused for a second. We asked her if it was working for her. She kept her gaze transfixed on the paper and nodded. When we explained to her that she could have it, she looked up at us, confused. We reassured her that she could take it home. After finally understanding, she put her head in her hand and looked down through the magnifier and said something that will forever resonate with me, “I can read now.”
I must thank Luxottica, OneSight and the AOSA for this particular memory and for the opportunity they provided me with. I could easily go on to describe the OneSight experience in more detail - how they shipped in four lens-edgers, thousands of edge blanks, and frames to ensure each patient walked away with a brand new pair of glasses custom made to their prescription. Or I could talk about the global team of fifty volunteers, from places as local as Tanzania to as far away as Australia, whose unrelenting effort helped us see 3,528 patients in 5 days. But to be completely honest, words only go so far.
That being said, I feel obligated to recommend that you join OneSight, or a similar organization, at least once in your career for a volunteer trip, whether it be at a clinic state-side or half-way across the globe. Yes, there are usually learning opportunities and something educational to take-away from such a trip. Yes, you may see some rare ocular disease or condition that you may never see in the United States. In reality though, these are not the memories that become engrained in you. It is the people: the patients and the team you work with and the social interactions you share within a completely foreign culture, that really allow you to reflect on the over hanging question: Why do I want to be a doctor? I know first hand that the answer is out there. It is just a matter of the second question: Are you willing to go find it?
Learn more about the OneSight program that Shane and Denis participated on this spring.