This is the first day of my 30th trip to Guatemala. The jet is taking me over Mexico as I type. Since I started making these trips in 1997, much has changed. Back then I worked with one man, Pedro, as we took the beginning steps to establish an eye care program for his village, Santa Maria Tzeja, Ixcán. His village had about 1,000 people. Now we have grown to group of three eye health promoters and service the entire region of Ixcán, 100,000 people. With the goal of making eye care accessible and affordable for this remote and impoverished area, we still have lots of growing to do.
With my limited time available to travel, it has taken several years to develop the infrastructure in Guatemala necessary for a viable, sustainable project. Relationships and alliances have been shaped with Guatemalan optometrists, eye surgeons, optical labs, Rotary clubs, the Ministry of Health, not to mention friendships with hotel workers, taxi and bus drivers, Catholic priests and nuns and restaurant owners who I trust and rely on for advice and services.
The population of Ixcán is beginning to rely on us as the only eye care providers in the region. Our three eye health promoters, Pedro, Felipe and Arnulfo receive calls daily from people needing eye care. Last year they accompanied over 100 patients to surgical clinics for cataract and other surgeries, all funded by Enfoque Ixcán. They dispense several hundred eye glasses per year and make available free lubricating eye drops to relieve those who work in dust and smoke all day, at home and in the fields.
To meet the growing need for eye care in Ixcán, we are now developing plans to build an eye clinic as a permanent home for our eye health promoters and visiting optometrists. We are also applying for grant money for supplies, testing equipment for the clinic and training for the eye health promoters.
My flight is now descending into Guatemala City and some of the majestic volcanoes we pass seem to be rising up to greet us. We’ve accomplished much in 30 visits, with more yet to do. Please join our team, the infrastructure, by making a donation. It will be money well spent and much appreciated by many in serious need of eye care.
–Scott Pike, OD
February 8, 2014