Dr. Sieve’s Upcoming Trip to Guatemala
Last spring I was invited to join a Catholic mission based out of Houston, TX named Sending Out Servants, or SOS for short. SOS is a non profit, faith based organization that works to address the spiritual and visual needs of the native Maya in the Quiché area of Guatemala. The mission to help the Quiché people revolves around three teams of people, each with distinct roles. There is a surgery team, a faith sharing team, and a vision screening team (of which I am a part of). With three other optometrists and an entire team of dedicated volunteers, our responsibilities are to screen patients for the surgical team that will follow, and to improve the vision of those with healthy eyes. During the first week of March, I will be joining SOS again to provide eye care and surgical screenings in the town of Joyabaj, Guatemala.
The primary conditions that the Quiché suffer from are cataracts and pterygia. Cataracts are a condition where the lens inside the eye becomes cloudy and is difficult to see through. Cataracts are the leading cause of blindness worldwide, and can only be treated with surgical removal. A pterygium arises from the conjunctiva (the clear tissue that covers the white part of your eye) and is caused by excessive sun exposure and UV radiation. Once a pterygium has formed, it can cause debilitating dry eye, distorted vision, and can even get “sunburned” and inflamed causing eye pain. These growths, like cataracts, must be surgically removed but still carry a risk of recurring. Access to skilled surgeons and the necessary equipment is limited in these rural areas of Guatemala and unfortunately for many Quiché this will be their first opportunity to have their eyes examined. It is because of this lack of access that we are greeted with patients lining up around the clinic waiting to be seen – last year we provided eye care to 500 people in four days.
Not all the patients we see will have significant health issues. A simple pair of reading glasses can make a world of difference to a family’s livelihood. One particular woman I encountered last year was a mother struggling against her vision to thread a needle. Some of the clothes knitted may be for her family, some may be sold at the local market. Not only can a pair of reading glasses improve her ability to see her stitching, but more tangibly, put food on the table and clothes on her children’s backs.
My time in Guatemala was an unforgettable experience. I encountered some of the most devastated eyes I have ever seen. At times, I felt discouraged by the overwhelming need and my own inability to address these issues with the limited time and resources we had. I felt a sense of community and welcome when I was invited to join an impromptu game of basketball with some of the local teens after a long day at the clinic. But most of all, I felt humbled from the love and gratitude of the Quiché. Each person was so thoroughly and genuinely grateful for the care and attention being provided. Even in short interactions across different languages, the Quiché always expressed their gratitude. I am thrilled to have the opportunity to return again this year.
If you are able to, please consider donating to SOS. Over 95% of all donations directly benefit the Quiché people.
A link to their website is located at http://www.sendingoutservants.org/
Lawrence Sieve, OD