Dana and I were finally on our flights to Guyana to execute two eye care clinics. Just three days prior we received approval from the Guyanese Ministry of Public Health to do so. We didn't skip a beat. I had connected with Dr. Shannon Da Silva, an optometrist in Georgetown, Guyana who immediately volunteered herself and her team to help at the clinics. Fortunately, we had the right partnership and plan in place to execute the clinics so bringing them to fruition within a few days was possible.
At 11pm on Friday, March 24th we arrived in Guyana and at 5:30am the next morning we were meeting Dr. Shannon Da Silva and her team, Keion, Dave and Shabana, for the first time. The opportunity to host the eye care clinics came about through my involvement with the Young Leaders of Americas Initiative, a program sponsored by the US Department of State. In October 2016, I hosted Dason Anthony, a young Guyanese entrepreneur and YLAI fellow, for a month during which he worked alongside me and we learned about each other's businesses. Once the exchange concluded, we were given the opportunity to do a reverse exchange where I could travel to Guyana and execute a project with Dason. Together, we decided our project would be hosting an eye care clinic. Because the project was largely funded by the YLAI program, SOLO was able to supply 300 pairs of reading glasses and 50 pairs of sunglasses and subsidize a second eye care clinic during the trip.
At 6:30am on March 25th, we were chartering a small flight to Mabaruma, a remote region in Guyana, to host our first eye care clinic. Upon arriving at 7:30am, we found over 200 people waiting. Some individuals traveled all night to come to the clinic. We quickly got to work. Dana, Dason and I administered preliminary vision tests to determine which patients were near and/or far sighted. By evening time, our team had seen nearly all of the patients. We were able to distribute eyeglasses and sunglasses to people in need. We met so many individuals and learned about their hardships that resulted from their poor vision. Many wanted to be able to sew or read again. Others simply wanted to make sure their children's eyes were healthy. It was a privilege to connect with and help so many people in need.
On Sunday, we returned to Georgetown and began preparing for our second eye care clinic that would take place the following day on Leguan Island. The next morning we were boarding a small boat with all of our supplies to head to Leguan. The boat ride was exciting... a bit less terrifying than the 12 person plane that we flew on the day before. Upon arriving at the hospital, we walked inside to find a packed room of people waiting to have their eyes checked. The hospital was allowing us to use their facilities to host the eye care clinic. Before we arrived, they used a number system to help organize the patients. The person who received number 1 had arrived at 4am that morning to wait in line. He had already been waiting 4 hours by the time we arrived.
We immediately got to work. Everything flowed beautifully. Not only were we able to examine all of the individuals waiting but we also stayed to see the hospital staff. Many of them had never had their vision checked.
In total, over 250 individuals came through the two eye care clinics. We were able to provide over half of them with eyeglasses and 50 with sunglasses. Because we were able to restore vision for most of the people who came to the clinics, they are now better able to lead fuller, more productive lives. For that, we are most grateful.
A special thank you to Dr. Shannon Da Silva, Keion and Dave who worked tirelessly to help bring these clinics to fruition and service so many individuals in need, to Shabana Shaw who represented the Ministry of Public Health and documented our efforts. Because of her work, our eye care clinics were covered by several Guyanese news outlets. Another thank you to Dason who so generously hosted me and Dana during our stay and volunteered his time to help at the clinics as well. And last but not least, a thank you to the Young Leaders of Americas Initiative, the US Department of State and Meridian International. Without your support, none of this would be possible.