St. Louis, MO, USA & Mundri, Western Equatoria State, South Sudan
If WHM Mundri was a "tweeting" team (actually I'd be hard pressed to tell you what tweeting really is), it would be a frequent hash tag. It's a big part of what we're all about here in South Sudan. It's what get's us "fired up" as my dad says. Working together with/alongside the South Sudanese to help them help their own. I love it. They love it. We love it.
The lastest love installment was in the form of a trunk full of eyeglasses.
When I was unexpectedly Stateside this past fall, one of the unanticipated benefits was being able put in a few plugs for the visual health of South Sudan. I dropped by my old floor at St. Louis Children's Hospital - my work home of at least 6 years of my professional life. Updating folks there on why I was home and how things were going in South Sudan, they asked me to let them know if I needed anything. I told them there was something, but that it wasn't for me. I told them Mundri needed eyeglasses...old prescription glasses, reading glasses, all of the above, and if they could gather some up, I'd be happy to take them back with me when I returned. The lovely Michele G. put up a sign above a box and 3 or 4 weeks later, a third of her desk space was full of glasses! I wish I had had my camera with me to take a picture of the stash...a space brimming with hope in the form of lenses and brightly colored frames :) I don't know who bought all of them, whether it was just 8East staff or whether it included patients' parents, visiting interns, docs from consulting services, dining services staff, pharmacists, physical therapists, child life staff....who knows! But each one of you who put a pair of glasses (or 4!) into the stash headed for South Sudan, you have NO IDEA what a blessing your generosity has been to people here.
I also braved the public speaking scene and made an announcement at my church asking for donations of old and new eyeglasses of all kinds...the next time I stepped foot in the building there was a pile overflowing the Ugandan basket I had put in the office to collect the loot - each time I emptied it, it was refilled to overflowing capacity...again, old prescription glasses, old and new reading glasses...made me so happy. And people kept coming up to me saying, "thanks for making that announcement, I've been looking for something to do with my old glasses now that my prescription has changed!" or "I've been meaning to drop these off at the collection place in Walmart but I'd much rather send them to South Sudan!"
So, I packed my trunk full to the brim (I counted about 200 pairs), and even had to leave some stateside in the care of my sister until the next trip because they wouldn't all fit!!!! When the trunk arrived, it was a week or two into December, and the SEM (Sudan Evangelical Mission) Opthamology Clinic staff was already on holiday break until the 2nd week in January or so, so the fun of distribution had to wait...we do a lot of waiting here :)
January came and I was finally able to take the stash of glasses over to the SEM staff. The beauty of this whole operation is that there are South Sudanese and an assortment of African professionals from other countries, paid by a local Sudanese NGO (with international funding), who have Opthalmologic training and actually know how to fit people with the proper strength glasses! So, the know how was here, but the resources for actually treating the people with failing eyesight were lacking...all I had to do was get the glasses here!!! This is the best kind of "pahtnahsheep" - the kind where you can combine skill from one group, with resources from another and provide quality care for people!
And the SEM staff were SOOOOO excited to get the glasses...basically their work is here in Mundri and traveling all around this part of Western Equatoria State checking people's eyes, telling them they need reading glasses, but not having glasses to actually give people, no place to tell them to go buy them...how frustrating, eh? NO LONGER! We separated the reading glasses from the prescription glasses, the 1.25's from the 3.75's, etc, and, brace yourselves, I also asked them to charge 1 South Sudanese Pound (about $0.25) for each pair of glasses.
What happens here in Africa with things given for free en masse, is that people are so excited about something being free that even if they don't need it, they'll come and take as many as they possibly can - and then oftentimes will go and sell them to make a profit on the freebie. We didn't have quite *that* many to go around, and I think it is good for people who want something to put a little bit of their own sweat equity behind it. It's true, I did not pay for a single one of those pairs of glasses you all gave me, and now I'm charging money for them?! CORRUPTION! That is exactly what has led this country and many others on the continent down the tubes! BUT, while I did not have to pay for the glasses, I did have to pay for the shipping costs ($2/kg) to bring them here to Mundri from Uganda (~$50), and also about $150 in excess luggage fees to bring it from the US to Uganda. So, the trunk cost me $200 to bring here (~$1/pair), and the other day when I went to check to see how things were going (they had about 6 pairs left!) I picked up about 150SSP (about $37). So, the small charge, for the ability to read, went towards helping with the cost to bring the glasses here.
So, I got some help controlling the masses that swarm to "free stuff" and sift through to find the people who really want to be able to see, they got some help with their eyesight, you got some help cleaning out your "junk" drawer and being a part of what's going on halfway around the world - so I'd say it's a huge success!!!
Thing is, usually people pity missionaries - living with limited means in places different from what they're used to - but in my opinion, I think you should envy us - we get to see the smiles on people's faces who can see, we get to open the trunk and watch the staff's eyes bug out and get really excited about what this means for their community...there's nothing quite like it!!!!
Where are THOSE pictures, you ask?! No one is smiling in these pictures! Well, that's my fault, when people are really happy so am I and I stop and soak up the moment, forgetting I should be taking pictures for the people who made this possible :) But then I remember to take pictures and people don't like to smile in photos here, so we have to tell them to smile, and I'm so busy trying to be responsible by taking the pictures that I forget to ask them to smile...and so it goes...there is photo documentation of the practical use of your generosity, but you're missing the smiles...and that's the best part...I guess that means you need to come visit :)
And, what now? My SLCH peeps just sent another batch in a package, and this past week, when I went to check in at the Eye Clinic, the staff asked me when I was bringing more!!! The SEM Eye Clinic staff at our health center travel all over our area, 1, 2, even 3 hours away to do outreaches and visual health assessments. Everywhere they went, they said there were still some people who didn't get glasses because they didn't have enough of whichever strength, etc. The staff told me "You tell them to continue, and even INCREASE!"
So, there you have it. THANK YOU!!!!!! Thank you to SLCH's 8E and Community Education Dept's, to Grace and Peace Fellowhip, to the Janke family, and to Queen of All Saints Church for being part of one of the joys of being here, and having the other part of my life there...for being part of caring for the people of South Sudan!