This past week, I had a team of friends here who did eye exams. It was an amazing week and I'm blown away by how much got accomplished.
They arrived Saturday evening, and between 5 of them, they had 27 pieces of luggage. (They had arranged with British Airways for the excess luggage. It would've been free, but due to the recent terrorist scares, they ended up having to pay some for the excess pieces.) It's a huge praise that all their luggage made it. And that customs allowed them through without charging them import taxes! They had to talk lots, show lots of papers, claim ignorance (they really were ignorant--as was I-that they had to have gotten permission through the Ministry of Health to bring in the equipment) in order for the officer to let them through...
The next morning, they unpacked all the boxes they possibly could in order for the equipment to fit into one vehicle. I took them around Nairobi during the day and we flew to Eldoret that afternoon.
Of course they were swept off their feet by the warm welcome at Ilula. No sooner had the children sang to them, given them roses and hugged them, than they were all on the soccer field. Some chose to sit and read to the kids.
After dinner, the team assembled all their equipment and set up a temporary eye clinic in our dining hall. Everything was there except one stand. It was on their list as having been packed, but it simply wasn't there. We were able to fenangle a makeshift stand using all kinds of odd pipes and pieces from our tool shed.
Monday morning they started seeing staff and people from the community. After lunch, the exams continued and they saw more than 90 patients that day and just a few less the next. Though none of our kids needed glasses, it's good to have their information on file for future exams, too. Some children were sent from school, one boy could truly not see much further than 1 foot from his face. They'll be custom-making his glasses at home and sending it here. The same goes for a teacher from the school. It's amazing what a difference their glasses will make for these two individuals!
After the clinic closed on Tuesday, they packed everything securely into my Land Rover. Just as the sun was rising on Wednesday (at 6:15) we were heading out to Kipkaren. There, they saw another 50 or so patients, which was indredible since these were all severe cases referred to them by another optometrist. It gave them the opportunity to also continue training our nurse on what certain conditions look like under the slit lamp. Both Dr. Fitzgerald and Dr. Miller said that some of the things they saw that day, they'd never have seen in the U.S. There was a gentleman with cancer in his eye. Some with terrible scarring from poorly done cataract surgery, one lady's pupil sewed shut! They are hoping to recruit some opthalmologists to come out to help with surgery at a future time.
All their equipment stays at our clinic in Kipkaren, making future trips for their/other optometry teams FAR easier! One of the neatest things was to hear Julius (our nurse) tell patients that they could come back the next day, that he would see them! He knows how to use the autorefractor and can give out premade glasses according to patients' needs.
The team hiked through the surrounding farms and crossed the stream to return to the training center, not realizing that the staff were waiting for them there to say good-bye. At the Kipkaren Children's Home, staff were gathered to thank them for the work the team had done. They presented each with a bracelet and then sang a Kalinjin song while all the staff filed by to hug them. By the time we left, the sky was red from the sunset and the team's hearts were full of care for the people they had served, taught, and learned from.
They all agreed that one of the many highlights was to see Henry, and elderly gentleman, jump up and down with excitement when they were able to give him glasses and he could see again for the first time in years!
But equally rewarding was knowing that the work they did wasn't just a one-time deal of them coming and going: They were able to empower Julius by training him during their 3-day stay so he, too, can help those in our community.
The team worked incredibly hard and touched many lives. In between, I was able to take them to the school to see what the Kenyan classroom is like, and they had tea at Mama Chiri's home. This was another highlight for some: Seeing how simple life is for Kenyans, yet with how much care guests are received.
Though their stay was short, they truly were able to make a life-long impact on lives in our community. At the same time, I believe our Kenyan friends touched their lives, too. Both the community in Ilula and Kipkaren asked them to return at a future date, and to stay longer next time.
Somehow, though this was their first trip to Kenya, I don't believe it was their last . . .