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