Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

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March 10, 2014

Volunteers give gift of sight to Haitians

Lions Clubs collect eyeglasses that help impoverished.

PILATE, Haiti — Hours of traveling on dirt and rock roads that look more like paths winding up and down the mountains brought a group of volunteers to the remote village of Pilate, Haiti. They traveled there to bring sight and as Linda Winkleman of Tipton said, “We are trying to encourage and improve.”

While hoping to fit 1,500 pairs of glasses on kids, Ron Heinshaw, a Lions Club member from Tipton, said, “I brought 6,000 pair of glasses.” There are about 40,000 people in the area. “We came down to do kids. We’ve done a lot of adults,“ he added.

“When we fit them it’s like a whole new world,” said Winkleman. “Now they can see.”

The eye clinic is the brainchild of Kokomo business owner Doug Vaughn, founder of the Haitian Environmental Support Program, with support of the Lions Club who supplied the glasses, knowledge and some of the manpower.

Lions clubs collect used glasses. They clean, classify by power and bag them for missions all over the world.

After each Haitian’s eyes are checked with an Autorefractor, they move to a different room where other missionaries fit them for glasses. Most people in this area have had only minor vision loss, resulting in a shortage of low-power glasses.

“Most of these people don’t really need glasses yet,” said Heinshaw. “[We do] whatever we can do to get them the best that we have to help them.”

Vaugh said they were supposed to start Monday, but, saw the need and started Saturday. “We did 250 people Saturday.”

Noticing how clean and polite people are, Winkleman said, “The people are very patient. Very appreciative. [I] just took a woman who waited 4 hours.”

“It’s been good. I think it’s life changing for the people of Pilate. They have not had eye exams since 1983 — 31 years ago,” said Anita Upchurch from Kokomo. “You see a lot of people smiling.” Upchurch was in Pilate in October 2011. She said, “I’ve seen a lot of changes, good changes, since we were here in 2011.”

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