It’s amazing how often we spend pining after things we don’t have. We often fail to remember the things we have already been given, and continue to enjoy. For three weeks, I spent my time with a group of students volunteering for CharityVision, a nonprofit organization with a focus on empowering local physicians in the developing world and creating sustainable solutions to the worldwide blindness epidemic. We watched surgeries, played with patients, volunteered in orphanages, and performed projects to improve the clinics we were at. We experienced conditions which are no longer prevalent in the United States. For as many problems as our current healthcare systems has, we do have medical and technological advances to be grateful for.
Approximately half our time was spent in a rural location called the De Venicia clinic. This clinic is used primarily for removing cataracts via a simple surgery. Did you know that a $25 donation is all that it takes to restore vision to someone who has been robbed of it? The process begins as staff travel to various locations across the Philippines (or the world, as this is an international organization) and perform screenings to find potential candidates. We took part in these screenings (obtaining carsickness on the 3-hour remote drive) and interacted with the patients who turned up.
Patients arrive on their designated date for their surgeries. Patients range in age from young children to the elderly. Whether young or old, every person deserves the right to sight. Observing surgeries was a fascinating experience. Doctors performed surgeries with the patients conscious. Can you imagine staring up at the caregivers while they stick sharp instruments in your eye? What more, the doctor jokes with you and then chastises you for laughing and moving the surgical area (your face). What a wonderful scene it was after the surgery when the patients would shed tears of joy after regaining their sight.
When we weren’t observing surgeries, we were acting as workers, seeking to improve the appearance of the clinic. Our biggest project was improving the patient waiting area outside. 5,000 bricks and 3 days later, we finished with all our fingerprints rubbed clean off (in order to commit the perfect crime). We also made improvements to the patient bathroom and kitchen, and provided the nurses with a locker for their belongings.
The remainder of our time we spent in Manila, volunteering at the Mabuhay House. Patients stay here for longer periods of time for a number of maladies. One such patient is a child named Balong who was born with club feet. Instead of going through surgery, Balong has had metal braces placed on his legs with rods shooting through his feet. Every week, a doctor tightens the brace as it slowly reverses his condition. This painful process will take nearly a year to complete. But when it is finished, he will be able to run and play with his friends.
Or consider Stephen, who was born with a cleft lip. Many people who are born with this condition and allow it to persist are often ridiculed and ostracized in society. A simple surgery repaired Stephen’s condition and he can go about his life without having to worry about being teased.
These are conditions rarely, if ever seen in the United States. They are such simple procedures performed when the children are brand new. Because many of these type of conditions are so rampant in the Philippines, it was surprising to encounter people with conditions such as cancer or diabetes. The people there deal with more severe disabilities which could be so easily repaired, that they have no time to worry about diseases which first world countries consider more serious. And if they can’t pay for those fixable maladies, how can they expect to pay for conditions we ourselves struggle to pay for?
The day we went and volunteered at an orphanage, we played with some of the cutest children who had just been dealt a bad hand in life. There are many orphanages within the states as well, but what made this experience unique was that some of these children were a result of failed abortions. Not only were they a result of neglect, but the poor actions of their parents had left lasting scars. It was heart-wrenching.
This trip provided a meaningful experience to be a part of a humanitarian opportunity. Becoming more aware of the healthcare we have been blessed with will allow us to focus on what we already have, rather than what we do not. For more information on CharityVision and the work they do, you can visit their website. charityvision.net