Eye Care and Culture on the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua

 

Williams College students providing care on recent Nicaragua trip.

Williams College students providing care on recent Nicaragua trip.

Earlier this year, I participated in a tremendous collaborative effort to provide eye care to over 4,700 people in the developing region of the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua. In cooperation with Ray Hooker, President and Founder of FADCANIC (Foundation for the Autonomy and Development of the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua), Williams College, and NECO, we have been able to provide this service for the last 10 years. This effort embodies the mission of FADCANIC; “…to nurture, strengthen and develop the process of autonomy of the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua from civil society through the qualitative transformation of social, economic, cultural and political relations that benefit the indigenous and ethnic communities of the region.” Williams College, a small liberal arts school in Williamstown, MA, has been funding this effort as part of a winter study course for a selected number of students entitled “Eye Care and Culture on the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua” and headed by faculty member Robert Peck.

NECO has been a part of this humanitarian effort since its inception ten years ago. For the last seven years, I have been helping to head the trip and organize all of the eye care related aspects of the trip. Before the trip, I teach the participating Williams College students (on average 12-14) about ocular anatomy, refractive error and rudimentary aspects of ocular disease. The students then go through a training to learn how to take visual acuity and determining the plus lens powers needed for distance and/or near vision.

During the 12-day trip, 3-4 optometrists, all of whom are NECO alumni and/or faculty and oversee the vision screenings and perform comprehensive exams when needed, accompany students. In addition to myself, the other optometrists that participate are local alums of the College. Of note is Dr. Katie Field (Class of ’03), who has been a trip optometrist for the last eight years, providing unsurpassed service.

Seeing patients in Kukra Hill, Nicaragua.

Seeing patients in Kukra Hill, Nicaragua.

To date, a total of 61 Atlantic Coastal communities have been serviced in the last ten years and a total of 28,951 eye exams performed. While almost all of the patients seen receive sunglasses, approximately 20,250 pairs of distance and/or reading glasses have also been dispensed. In addition, the Commonwealth practice of New England Eye (NEE) has been donating lenses and fabrication services for the last 5 years for those patients who have significant refractive errors that can’t be corrected with the over-the-counter reading glasses typically dispensed during the trip. In total, approximately 250 pairs of glasses have been made by NEE and shipped back to the appropriate patients.

While these trips wouldn’t be possible without the leaders of this endeavor, I want to acknowledge the hard work of the participating Williams College students each year. I am proud to be a part of the NECO community and the service they have provided in this endeavor over the last 10 years! Members of the NECO faculty who have participated over the years are myself, Bruce Moore, Catherine Johnson, Nicole Quinn, Stacy Lyons and Jacky Kong. NECO alum who have participated are Drs. Katie Field, Wendy Crusberg, Jenelle Mallios, Yos Priestley, Marcia Thiel, Scott Huffer, Jennifer Hartzell, Angela Langthorne, Layli Toutounchian, Tammy Gray, Irwin Schwom.

For an article highlighting this 10th anniversary trip, visit this link.
For more information on FADCANIC, visit its website.

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