Auburn Optometrist, Two Others Participate in Mission Trip to Guatemala
Three Auburn residents were part of a delegation who spent early November on a Volunteer Optometric Services to Humanity (VOSH) mission trip to Guatemala, in northern Central America.
Dr. John Crotty of Lifetime Vision Center in Auburn; his wife Debi and Kathy Florence were among the 14-member delegation. The delegation left Saturday, Nov. 3 and returned Saturday, Nov. 10. That included a day to fly to Guatemala and a day to return to the United States.
Five optometrists and nine support staff made the trip. It was Dr. Crotty’s fifth VOSH mission to Latin America since 2003. The others were to Mexico, Peru, the Dominican Republic and Jamaica. The Jamaica trip, the most recent, was in January 2011. Debi Crotty made her fourth consecutive trip and it was the second trip for Florence. Participants on the mission trips pay their own way, Dr. Crotty said.
VOSH provides optometric services to people in developing nations.
Florence said she had worked in an optometry office before she was married and moved to Nebraska 29 years ago.
“I had a little bit of background and interest in the field,” Florence said.
The Florences are close friends and neighbors of the Crottys. They went on the mission to the Dominican Republic.
“I thought it was a wonderful experience. I told them I would be interested in going again,” Florence said.
She said her husband Jim could not go on last month’s trip as he was working the outage at Cooper Nuclear Station near Brownville.
“I was excited to experience the Guatemalan culture, to be a part of something bigger than myself, and to reach out and help people who have less than we do in this area. The Guatemalan people are so friendly, welcoming and appreciative of the help. The doctors were able to provide services. It was a wonderful trip,” Florence said.
The VOSH mission was in conjunction with a Rotary International project to install new stoves and water treatment for homes in south central Guatemala, Dr. Crotty said.
Dr. Kim Baxter of North Platte, a Rotarian, worked with his Rotary Club to provide the stoves and water treatments.
Debi Crotty said they learned about the Rotary project at an optometric convention. Dr. Darren Wright of Lifetime Vision Center, an active Auburn Rotary Club member, approached the Auburn Rotarians about the project. The Auburn Rotary Club contributed towards the project, she said.
“It was nice that this project happened through the Rotary Club. We got to see firsthand how the money was used,” Debi Crotty said.
The new stoves will help reduce smoke in homes; help lessen irritants, especially eye irritants and reduce deforestation. The water treatments will help bring clean drinking water to residents, she said.
The optometrists gave eye examinations to about 1,300 patients, Dr. Crotty said. The patients ranged in age from preschoolers to their 90s. Few of the Guatemalans had previous eye examinations, he said.
“Many of them needed corrective lenses. Many of them received eyeglasses collected by the generous people of our area,” Dr. Crotty said.
The optometrists cooperate with members of Lions Clubs, who provide a lot of used eyeglasses taken on mission trips, he said. Sight conservation has been a major priority of Lions International for decades.
“We checked everyone for glaucoma. There was not a high incidence of glaucoma, which was good. We saw quite of bit of diabetes and cataracts. We found out, unfortunately, their diets are not always ideal, because of lack of good nutrition,” Dr. Crotty said.
Debi Crotty said the number of patients on the mission trips she participated in who had previous eye examinations varied. A lot of the patients seen in Jamaica had previous examinations, she said.
Dr. Crotty said there is a great deal of need for vision care in Guatemala.
“We had a patient who was extremely near sighted to the point that she was thought to have been blind since childhood. We were able to provide her with glasses so she can see quite well,” he said.
During the week the delegation was in Guatemala, the nation was struck by an earthquake which measured 7.4 on the Richter scale.
“The village we were in experienced significant shaking, but no buildings were toppled. In a village 60 miles from us, about 37 people were killed. We felt blessed. The good Lord watched over us and our mission team. No one was harmed,” Dr. Crotty said.
After the quake, he said it was difficult to transmit information back to the United States, because their communications were down for awhile.
Debi Crotty said interpreters were used a lot in Guatemala. Spanish is the official language, but many patients spoke native indigenous languages instead.
Dr. Crotty said the optometrists traveled by boat on one day to one of the villages to provide eye care. There was a little town on a large volcano crater lake. The other days, the optometrists traveled by bus, he said.
“It’s a challenging land. They have volcanoes which are still active. There were crop fields built on steep slopes. We saw a lot of avocados and coffee plantations. We had beautiful weather with pleasant temperatures,” he said.
“It was a delight to the senses because of the beauty of their countryside. Their native dress was colorful, with bright, primary colors. We heard a lot of different kinds of music, including traditional music on marimbas,” Debi Crotty said.
“One evening, we dined in a special restaurant. They entertained you by giving you a taste of the Mayan culture. Corn tortillas are a real staple in their diet. We tried to make one. It’s not as easy as it looks. It’s hard to get them nice, flat and round,” she said.
“The people were very warm and welcoming and appreciative. The street vendors would come up to you and offer their wares,” Dr. Crotty said.
At the end of the day, the Guatemalan people had a formal ceremony of appreciation, the Crottys said. Dr. Ellen Weiss of Millard, president of VOSH Nebraska, spoke for the delegation.
“It was a delightful formalization. It was touching. They wanted to make it a special occasion for us,” he said.
“We’re so blessed here. Many of them didn’t have a good source of water. They’re hard working and happy people. They’re appreciative. They communicated no matter the language, including a handshake and a smile,” Debi Crotty said.
During the trip, Dr. Crotty said he was continually reminded of the great generosity of the people of the Auburn area.
“That makes it all possible,” he said.
Area residents are encouraged to take eyeglasses they do not use to Lifetime Vision Center.
“The more recent, the better. The lenses are better and have more current frames. The patients appreciate the newer glasses,” Debi Crotty said.
She said it was a blessing for them to be able to go on the VOSH missions.
“The universal truth is the needs are the same all over the world. If each one of us can do our part, whether contributing eyeglasses or doing examinations, it all contributes to the betterment of the people of the world,” Dr. Crotty concluded.