HaitiProjects

How to Distribute Eyeglasses in Haiti

By May 29, 2016 No Comments
Haitian Creole Reading Test

Reading Glasses Test in Haitian Creole translated by Wilner Lormeus.
Blog post written by Kris Neese.

Distributing eye glasses in HaitiIn October 2013, I had the opportunity to participate in a medical mission trip to Haiti with the American Friendship Foundation.  Our team was primarily made up of RNs, respiratory therapists, doctors, and cardiologists and we were sent to serve the people of Haiti with free medical care at a variety of clinics around Port Au Prince.

But what do you do when you sign up for a medical mission trip but have no health training what-so-ever?  Well, in my case, you’re assigned to be the eyeglasses guy! I work as a businessman, have never worn eyeglasses, and do not have any formal training in eye care.  For our service trip to Haiti I had the opportunity to learn quite a bit about eyeglasses and would like to share those lessons with you in this blog post.

How to Get Eyeglass Donations

The first step in this process was to get eyeglasses donated.  For our trip, we accepted prescription glasses, reading glasses, non-prescription sunglasses, and children’s glasses.  Our goal was to collect 200 pairs of eyeglasses, which we were able to do quite easily.  Here are the resources we used to get eyeglasses donated:

  • Church Collection – I ran a two week drive at Imprint Church in Woodinville and was able to get about fifty pairs of eyeglasses donated.  We were allowed to hang a sign, add a blurb to our weekly announcements, make a post on our Facebook page, and mention it in the weekly newsletter.  Imprint Church only had about 200 attendees at the time this article is being written so this was a pretty good source for us.
  • At Work– I wasn’t able to do any mass communications through my company to ask for donations, but as people asked why I was going to Haiti and what our goal was, I always made sure that I mentioned the word “eyeglasses”.  Several people brought in their old eyeglasses or donated some pairs of new readers, but the best strike came when one of the women in our accounting department called a friend who does the bookkeeping for an optometrist in Bellevue. She was able to pull in about 125 pairs of glasses from that one source!
  • Visit Optometrists – After seeing how many pairs of eyeglasses were donated from that single optometrist, I got in the car and drove to several other optometrists in the area.  All of them were very willing to help and we got about 50 more pairs of glasses.  Many of these optometrists have a box set up in their office where people can donate their old glasses to the Lions Club, but they still seemed to have a “secret stash” on hand that was a big blessing for our trip.
  • Lions Club – The Lions Club definitely has a well-run program for eyeglass donations and it looks like they are very generous in providing those glasses to organizations like ours.  We contacted our local LERC (Lions Eyeglasses Recycling Center) but were told that they need about a three month notice before making a donation.  It didn’t work out this time around, but with some advanced planning this would be the easiest place to get donations.
  • Hospitals – Some of the doctors on our trip placed a collection bin in their office and at local hospitals.  I created a slight variation on the sign we used at my church and they were able to collect about 25 more pairs of glasses.
  • Get Lucky – In the end, our single biggest donation of eyeglasses arrived one day before our trip and was just flat out lucky!  One of our team members is a real estate agent, who knew a title rep, who happened to have over 200 pairs of brand new reading glasses sitting in her home for reasons I don’t think we’ll ever understand.

Getting eyeglass donations is just basic marketing… mention it to enough people and things will come together! I was extremely doubtful that we would reach our target of 200 eyeglasses, but in less than three weeks we collected just under 500 pairs of glasses for our service trip to Haiti!

How to Sort and Organize Donated Eyeglasses

Reading glass display

Before leaving for the trip, it was important to organize all of our donated eyeglasses in a way that would make them easy to find and distribute during our mission trip.

We purchased clear bags from Office Depot that were 4” X 8” with a white label on the outside where we could write down the styles mentioned above.  The bags cost $30 for a 1000 baggie pack, which was worth every penny!  We then separated the different styles into gallon sized Ziploc bags so we could quickly set up shop in our various clinics around Haiti.

The Lions Club had one of the better organizational systems that I noticed so I created a variation on their system and labeled our eyeglasses as follows:

MV = Multi Vision

These were our bi-focals and tri-focals. We didn’t even bother bringing these down since it would be nearly impossible to match them to the patient.

SV = Single Vision

These are your standard prescription eyeglasses.  We had an optometrist offer to examine each pair of glasses and identify the strength of the lens, but we decided not to take him up on his generous offer because we had no way to give a true eye test once were in Haiti.

Optometrists will cringe when they read this, but we simply marked the glasses as weak, medium, or strong in a very subjective test conducted on my living room couch.

R = Reading Glasses

Reading glasses all had a number that ranged from +1.00 to +3.75 printed on the side.  We wrote down the strength on the baggies used for the glasses because the print is super tiny and difficult to read.

SUN = Non-prescription Sunglasses

Initially we had all of our sunglasses in one bag, but after a couple of days we learned that it is much better to sort them into male and female styles to keep the lines moving quickly.

KIDS = Kids Sized Glasses

This was a very small part of our overall donations, so we just kept these in one bag.

How to Distribute Eyeglasses in Haiti

Friends in HaitiAfter all that work collecting and organizing, and one long flight to Port-au-Prince, it was time to start distributing the glasses. Here are some of the lessons I learned that might be valuable to you as well.

  • Don’t try this without an interpreter!
  • The essential question: Do you need glasses for sewing OR for walking? This tells you if they need readers or prescription glasses.
  • The literacy rate in Haiti is around 50%, so giving them a test for “reading glasses” started many conversations on the wrong foot as they explained that they couldn’t read.  Have your interpreter ask if the patient needs, “up close glasses for sewing or reading.
  • Reading glasses were the best thing that we brought. Using our Reading Glasses Test in Haitian Creole it was very easy to provide an eye exam and assess which strength of glasses they needed. Feel free to use that tool as you see fit.
  • In hindsight, I wouldn’t recommend bringing prescription glasses down without the ability to administer an eye exam.  People would just try on pair after pair, and eventually I think they picked a pair because they felt sorry for me.  I would imagine that only 1 in 10 people who received prescriptions will actually use them for the long-term.
  • If a patient tries on prescription glasses, have them walk around a bit. Don’t give them the reader card as their test.
  • Watching their face as they try on glasses is important. Their body language will you tell you if you are on the right track.
  • Almost everyone we met had issues with their eyes being irritated, burning, tearing up, and similar ailments.  In Port Au Prince the roads are dusty, trash fires are burning, and there is lots of truck exhaust.  Eye drops are the answer to that, not glasses.
  • Sunglasses were a very popular item in Haiti! Initially, we gave them out to everyone who complained of eye irritation, but then we started noticing that everybody in line was suffering the same symptoms.  From that point on we only offered them to patients with cataracts or other eye ailments that weren’t able to help with.

Summary

Distributing eyeglasses in Haiti was a very worthwhile and educational experience. On future trips, I am only going to bring reading glasses down because I know that I can be pretty darn accurate getting the right pair of glasses in their hand.  Please feel free to use our Haitian Creole eye exam as you see fit!

Download the Reading Glasses Test in Haitian Creole

Haitian Creole Eye Exam

AFF Team

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