If you have read Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams, you may remember that the number 42 is the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything. It was a strange, unfulfilling answer, but it turned out that maybe we didn’t understand the question or maybe we weren’t asking the right question.
On this, my 42nd trip to Ixcán, Guatemala, I found myself re-asking the question, “Why am I doing this? Why do I spend my time, energy and money working to bring eye care to this remote part of the world?”
Joseph Campbell said, “Sometime we have to give up the life we planned, so that we can live the life that is waiting for us.” That statement became real to me 42 trips ago when I was introduced to the people and the need in Ixcán.
I was confronted by the questions, why am I so privileged and what can I do to help?
Back then, in 1996, these people had just lived through a brutal civil war (many of them didn’t live through it). For centuries before, they had been killed, raped, stolen from and enslaved so that the dominant cultures could live easier, privileged lives. Even today their resources are taken and they are often offered welfare in exchange. But, welfare is another form of enslavement. It lures them into dependence on a ruling culture.
This is what I saw in Ixcán 23 years ago and I saw that maybe I could do a small part to change this cycle of inequality. Maybe I could bring access to eye care where none existed, using locally available resources. Maybe I could help them help themselves and give them some reasons to live in place and not flee to greener pastures in the north.
Eye care is a very small piece of this complicated and historically engrained puzzle of cultural dominance which has left the people of Ixcán poor, repressed and neglected. But, eye care was where I could have an impact. Now, when I travel there and see people enjoying life with clear, comfortable vision, having normally sighted interactions with their families and communities, I am thankful for the question I began to answer so many years ago,”What can I do to help?”
More needs to be done in so many areas of these people’s lives to bring them up to my level of privilege, but clear, comfortable vision can allow improved learning and productivity. It can improve their quality of life and I’m proud to be a part of it.
If you’d like to help Enfoque Ixcán change the world, click the I’ll Help! button at the top of the right-hand bar. Every little bit helps, a pair of glasses for a student hindered by poor eye sight or an eye surgery for a grandparent blinded by cataracts. You can make a difference!
Scott Pike, OD