Each year, students and faculty from the optometry program participate in Amigos trips to underserved towns and villages in various countries to provide much needed eye care. Recently, Amigos volunteers traveled for a week to Iscán, Guatemala in August where they saw and treated between 200 to 400 patients a day.
These trips are put on by the Amigos program in conjunction with Pacific’s School of Optometry. Although it is a different entity, the Amigos program is very strongly tied to Pacific. All the volunteers are Pacific optometry students, faculty, staff or alum. It is also tied to the Volunteer Optometric Services to Humanity group, which is an international program partnered with the World Health Organization to eliminate preventable blindness by 2020 and make eye care available everywhere.
This spring break the Amigos program will be taking four more trips to the Philippines, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Brazil. All the volunteers who go pay their own way.
Cristin Mattione, a second year optometry student, has gone on two Amigos trips now. Mattione described the trip as helpful; she got to see hundreds of patients back to back, which she said, “made [her] more confident.”
One of the trip leaders and professor in Optometry, Dr. John Lowery, also commented on how beneficial this trip is to optometry students. According to Lowery, the variety of conditions seen on an Amigos trip would take years to see in the states because of the standards and availability of eye care.
“Every trip we see stuff that we say ‘what-the-heck-is-that,’” said Lowery. He describes the trips as “refractive triage eye-care” because of the limited amount of equipment the optometrists can take. They travel over borders with bins full of recycled spectacles in individual bags that are sorted and categorized. They get to take basic equipment and do the best they can for the patients they see.
Lowery said Amigos “is filling a gap.” Even if the eye care is not perfect they get to help people who have never had any before. There are times, which Lowery said they call “Amigos Moments,” where they find a patient who hasn’t been able to see anything in focus past the end of their nose for a long time and when they place a set of glasses on the patient there face lights up. It’s like they are seeing the world for the first time. The Amigos program has seen and treated nearly 100,000 patients and the number will only continue to grow in the years to come.