Culture / See Well to Live Better

See Well to Live Better

See Well to Live Better

2 April 2007 Culture 11

This past February marked the joyful culmination of the Tree-Land Foundation’s Mayan Vision Project, a four and a half-year humanitarian effort  initiated and funded by the U.S. non-profit Tree-Land Foundation.  February 1st was the date of the gran inauguración of the charitable Clínica de Salud Visual “Ver Bien para Vivir Mejor” (“See Well to Live Better” Clinic of Visual Health) in Merida, Mexico.  As the Foundation's Executive Director, I was proud to share the dais with Silvia Cicero de Patron, the wife of Yucatán's governor, as well as many Desarrollo Integral de la Familia (DIF) Yucatán administrators. 

Tree-Land Foundation established this clinic in cooperation with DIF Yucatán, which is providing the facilities, ongoing support, and excellent employees.  At this clinic, they examine the vision and dispense prescription eyeglasses at no cost to people otherwise unable to afford them.  The eyeglasses come from an inventory of nearly 80,000 used, donated glasses collected in Maryland and shipped to Mérida last year specifically for this clinic (with absolutely indispensable help from Aduana Cervera in Yucatán).  More eyeglasses will be sent to supply the clinic as needs arise.

This permanent clinic is different from other charitable vision projects that dispense recycled eyeglasses.  We have combined cutting-edge, electronic technology with a new, custom software program created by a brilliant Mexican computer programmer named Martin Figueroa. Developed over nearly 20 years, this software makes it possible to precisely match used eyeglasses to fill each patient’s specific vision prescription needs… and the entire process requires only minutes per patient!

The importance of this clinic and the role that good vision plays in people’s lives cannot be stressed enough. The facts are little-known and often surprising to many people!

For example, over half the world’s population suffers from some kind vision impairment. Yet when ALL of the serious conditions we usually think of are added together - cataracts, glaucoma, trachoma, corneal injury or disease, river blindness, total blindness, etc. - they account for only 5% of all vision problems. One visual impairment, refractive error, afflicts 95% of the visually impaired and it is easily correctable with just eyeglasses! Since poor vision is the world’s most common learning disability, and education is the “key” to the “lock” that poverty holds on so many people, we believe that by correcting the eyesight of large populations there will be a positive beneficial effect on many people's lives. That is the goal of this clinic.

Our idea was to create a facility that remedies the biggest, easiest and least expensive problems first. We also believe that places like Yucatan want to solve their own vision care problems, which until now were mostly addressed by "mission" doctors and others.  Our approach encourages local awareness, participation and an ongoing solution.  Even before we opened the clinic, DIF Yucatan began taking steps and created Mexico's first governmental Department of Visual Health, which provides charitable medical services to people who can't be helped by eyeglasses alone.  Although serious vision problems represent “only” five percent of the total affected population, these severe conditions are also being corrected. The O'Horan Hospital, the local Medical College and a national fundacion provides the facilities, doctors and funding to provide services, such as cataract surgeries, that are screened and initially identified at our clinic.

It is important to note that Tree-Land Foundation received much encouragement and help from the Lions Club and Rotary Club in both the U.S. and Mexico.  We are also indebted to the Devlyn Optical Company for helping pioneer the technology we are using. 

Would you like to help out? You can. Volunteers are welcome to participate at the clinic by washing and sterilizing eyeglasses, by assisting with patients and by donating used eyeglasses. Organizations that wish to coordinate collections of used eyeglasses would also be greatly appreciated. Contact Luisa, the Registered Nurse who runs the clinic, for more information.

The “See Well to Live Better” Clinic of Visual Health is located in Colonia Fidel Velazquez on Calle 38, about 4 blocks North of Calle 59 in the DIF Yucatán Humberto Lara y Lara facility. Hours are Monday through Friday, 8:00 am to 3:00 pm.

I love Yucatán and have visited dozens of times over the past 20 years. It is our countless friendships with its wonderful people that have motivated our desire to give something back to a people who are largely overlooked, and who are not – for many reasons – begging anyone for a hand-out.  We hope that the improvement this clinic can make in people’s lives will be a “hand-up” for the many proud, wonderful, hard-working Yucateco people who genuinely deserve it.

  • The Tree-Land Foundation Website
  • The Desarrollo Integral de la Familia (DIF) Website
  • Merida Rotary Club: Casa de Amistad on Avenida Aleman, Tel: (999) 953-7033
  • Merida Lions Club: Avenida Colon, Tel: (999) 926-7523

2008 Update from Bob via email to Yucatan Living

In the year or more since the clinica opened, the (new PRI) government and DIF are massively supporting expansion of both the clinic's physical plant and it's "reach," i.e. clinic workers are being sent out into the villages to determine people's vision prescription needs and are providing them with free eyeglasses.

I returned to Mérida in January and brought donations from Rotary Clubs in the U.S. to Club Rotario Mérida Itzaes. They contributed funds along with the DIF to purchase a new electronic vision diagnostic machine that's faster and more accurate. As a result, the clinica is now easily able to help over 100 patients a day instead of just 10 or 15. Last year, in addition, the clinica screened 26 patients who had cataracts. This is something eyeglasses alone will not remedy. The government provided free cataract surgery to those indigent people. There's a great video that gives you a tour of the clinic here. I am proud and humbled at the opportunity to help the people of Yucatán...most of whom I'll never meet. They deserve the kind of boot-strap help that having restored vision provides. I have many times speculated - if there are such things as previous lives - whether I might have once lived in Yucatán! While THAT'S unknowable, I DO know this: I love the place and the people.
Thanks for all YOU do. Bob Martin

Don't miss the opportunity to see Bob Martin talk about his work and the clinica in this video.


  • Andrew Katz 9 years ago

    I found your artical on the clinic for visual health most interesting. As a practicing optometrist, I was curious as to whether this clinic needed any professional volunteers. In the future, if I retire in Merida, volunteering would be all the easier if the need is there. Best regards, andy katz

  • DR. JOHN TODD 11 years ago

    HI BOB,



  • Marisol Mutt 11 years ago

    Impressive work!. Congratulations again Bob.

  • Genny M/La Peregrina 11 years ago

    Honor y reconocimiento para el Sr. Bob Martin, something good for the less fortunate is always commended. Gracias. I hope I can add my 2 cents someday in Chelem.

  • Bob Martin 11 years ago

    Luisa - the woman who made the comment above - is the extraordinarily resourceful, capable and intelligent woman who manages the Clinica de Salud Visual. This clinic COULD NOT have been entrusted to more capable, caring hands. She, and the lovely ladies who help her, are a blessing.

  • luisa 11 years ago

    Gracias bob martin, en la clinica visual estamos contentos de atender a la gente con mas necesidad economica de nuestro estado yucatan,es un gran orgullo pertenecer a este grupo, seguiremos avanzando para el bienestar de nuestra gente. gracias bob.

  • David Leiner 11 years ago

    Bob, you are an truly an inspiration1

  • James Callaghan 11 years ago

    Bob Martin is a true friend of the land of the Mayoob. I am very impressed with how Bob has a taken a good idea and transformed it into a great vision! ¡Enhorabuena!

  • Bill Van Lowe 11 years ago

    As a Lion in the United States and having very bad eyes myself. I know what a blessing it is to be able to see well. Bob Martin, a personal friend of mine has provided an invaluable service to the people of the Merida community and he deserves many thanks for his hard work in making the clinic a reality. Lions In the USA will continue to support Mr. Martin in his quest to help. I pledge my personal support and hope that every one who reads this message will do the same. this is truely a life making project.

  • Theresa 11 years ago

    I am very nearsighted, in fact without glasses I would be legally blind, and I remember clearly the day I got my first glasses. I was 12 and I could look across the street and see the leaves in the trees, I could look down at my feet and see individual blades of grass! It was such an incrediable experience that I remember the wonder and joy of it still even though it's been 40 years.
    I can imagine what an impact this clinic will be making in people's lives here. The world really opens up when you can see it clearly!


  • Jose C. Manzanilla 11 years ago

    Congratullations! A dream come true!

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