Together in Montana to help the American Indians see again
Together in Montana to help the American Indians see again
In May 2018 OneSight held a regional vision care clinic in Blackfeet, Montana. Among the 1,526 patients visited, 75% of which were children, 1,192 needed glasses.
OneSight is an independent non-profit whose mission is to provide underserved communities with free vision screenings and glasses to eradicate the vision care crisis at a global level. To do so, OneSight every year runs different types of clinics all over the world, including sustainable clinics, international clinics and regional ones. Luxottica plays a huge role too, not only by being founding sponsor of the organization but also - and most importantly - by allowing thousands of employees to join the missions as volunteers every year.
One of the regional clinics for 2018 was in Montana, US. You might think that the US is a rich country where everybody can afford a visit and a pair of glasses, while in fact there are some underprivileged communities there as well.
We were in Blackfeet, a 1.5-million-acre Indian Reservation in upper Montana at the foot of the Rocky Mountains. Blackfeet is a very isolated community of Native Americans who mostly work as ranchers and farmers. Unemployment rate here in winter can go up to 70% due to hard weather conditions that force most activities to close, thus leaving families without a job and a salary for months. Here 90% of the adult population and 85% of children need glasses but many have limited means and hard access to healthcare, not to mention that doctors are rare here and it can take from 6 months to even a year to get an appointment.
47 doctors and Luxottican volunteers coming from the US, Italy, Sweden, Spain, the Netherlands, Canada, Brazil, Mexico and China gathered together to make an impact and give this community the gift of sight.
We set up a clinic in a high school gym at the Reservation and each of us had a different role over the week so that we could all experience the different steps of the vision screening process. We changed station every day, thus learning how to do patients’ registration, tonometry, inventory, color and depth, dilation, visual acuity, frames selection, pupillary distance measurement, and dispensing. On Monday we visited adults, while all other days were entirely dedicated to young boys and girls in kindergarten and in elementary, middle and high schools of that area.
We had a very touching experience the very first day, when we gave Gabriel his glasses. Gabriel was an 18-year-old Indian American from Blackfeet who studied criminal justice in college with the dream of being a lawyer. He had broken his glasses about a year before and he had not received a new pair nor a vision screening since. The worst part is that he was diagnosed a -4 in one eye, which for non-experts means that you can’t see clearly anything distant more than a couple of meters from you as it would be all blurred. Can you imagine studying in these conditions for an entire year? We dispensed Gabriel’s glasses about an hour after his visit was done and he literally couldn’t believe his eyes!
That week we visited about 1,526 patients, 75% of which were children aged 5 to 18, and dispensed 1,192 pairs of eyeglasses. All the people we met, from school teachers to the children's parents and the community’s representatives, were incredibly grateful to us for helping the people in Blackfeet and allowing especially the youngsters to see the beauty of life again. On our last day there they organized a cultural night with a visit to the Indian Museum and a dinner with young Native Americans dancing their typical dances for us, and they explained to us how they make all their costumes by hand and how they preserve their traditions. We saw their passion for their land and history in their eyes, and their emotion for what we were doing there.
They have a word to say goodbye which literally means ‘until we meet again’. Thank you for having us Blackfeet. Until we meet again.
Check the day-by-day report below and discover how much of an impact we all can make to help people to see the beauty of life!
It was Monday morning, the sun was up, the temperature was great and the team was ready to start! We visited 275 people, both adults and children, and only 6 didn't need glasses.
One of the most touching stories was that of Mariah, a 20years old from Blackfeet who really needed glasses but hadn't been wearing them for over a year. She couldn't afford a doctor nor a complete visit but you could tell how much she needed glasses from the way she was straining to see. She went through all the different vision screening stations and after being recognized a -2 on every eye she was finally able to pick a pair of glasses and have them ready only in a few hours. And she did not come alone! Gabriel, her brother aged 18, came too. Gabriel had several vision issues, especially on one eye as he was a -4, and yet he was in college to study criminal law. Can you imagine how much he had been struggling over the last year to read, study and pursue his dream? Gabriel and Mariah received their glasses after only a few hours from the moment they entered the clinic and they couldn't believe their eyes. They started to look at things around them with their glasses on and to thank the doctors and the whole team for helping them in such a short time.
To use Dr. Saundra’s words, this is why we do what we do.
Day two we visited 375 children from 1st to 6th grade in school. Many of them had never worn glasses or had a visit before, while others were wearing glasses but you could tell they weren't the right ones for them. A young boy was wearing his sister’s glasses because he broke his pair but his family didn't have enough money to buy a new one. When he received the new glasses, he was so excited that he forgot the old ones at the clinic!
Another little man, about 10years old, was recognized a -6 on one eye and he told us he had never had his eyes screened before nor had he wore glasses in his life. Many others were wearing glasses but they were all broken, scratched, kept together with the tape or even missing a temple. At the end of the day we dispensed about 250 pairs of glasses and the kids were incredibly glad they could see again.
On Wednesday, we offered vision screenings to young children, kindergarteners included, and 258 people out of the 350 visited needed glasses. We got really scared when Dr. Chris visited a young girl and found an elevated optic nerve in one of her eyes. We brought the little girl to an emergency hospital right away because, worst case scenario, that might have been a tumor! After investigating the girl’s clinic history with the family, we understood she only had a malformation due to being born premature, but luckily it was nothing serious and we could easily help her by simply giving her a new pair of glasses.
Thursday was the toughest day. We welcomed almost 400 people at the clinic, from kindergarteners to teenagers in high schools. We also dispensed the glasses to the elementary school we visited the day before, which was very impactful as all those children were super excited at the idea of getting new glasses and being able to see the board clearly from that moment on.
At night the school hosted a cultural night for us, with Natives dancing their typical dances and explaining to us their history, culture and Indian traditions.
Mr. Tatsey, Vice President of the Blackfeet community, honored us with Indian gifts and our team presented him with a OneSight plaque to thank him and the whole community for welcoming and hosting us as if we were family.
We couldn't believe it was our last day of clinic already. We visited the last patients and dispensed the last glasses. At the end of the day we counted a total of 1,526 visits and 1,192 glasses donated. One of the boys from high school came out of the school telling his friend “I can see!”. That’s what OneSight does: help the world see!
Story written by Vittoria, Luxottican