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Blinded by the Light…but not really light, it was cataracts
“I never knew there were so many blind people wandering around Senegal unaccompanied.” – Tamba volunteer
Now, thanks to the NGO Right to Sight and Health and 23 Peace Corps volunteers, there are 183 fewer blind eyes walking around Senegal. First-year Ag volunteer Brian Bartle described the clinic by saying, “It’s like Pulaar bumper cars, you turn one away and right behind you there’s another one with his paper in his hand running into you.” Tamba volunteer Anna Alsobrook said, “It changed my life.” Spence Riggs’ only comment is that he hopes everyone can someday meet Dr. Donald McDonald who brought entertainment of some form to the hospital every day, whether he was “singing” to the people waiting or speaking his Franglais.
The Right to Sight and Health team first came to Senegal in 2008 with a mission in Bakel and followed with two missions in Kedougou in 2009 and 2010. The Tambacounda mission was organized differently than past missions in Senegal allowing the Senegalese team to be more involved and actually learn skills that they will continue to use in their work. A local surgical technician was also chosen to study alongside the American team for the two weeks learning a new and more efficient cataract extraction technique. Consultations were performed, and surgeries scheduled, with local doctors the week before the American team arrived allowing the doctors to immediately start operating when they arrived in Tamba. This forced everyone involved to hit the ground running ready to perform pre-op on those having surgery in the 1st week and to start consultations with volunteer Anna Alsobrook’s rockstar dad, Dr. Rick Alsobrook.
For these two weeks, Peace Corps volunteers acted as mediators/translators/shufflers…”sit down, no not there, wait there’s no chair there, whoa don’t sit on that guy”. In addition, a few volunteers were given the chance to act as stylists in the eye glasses room helping fashion desperate Pulaars pick out glasses.
1st year Kolda volunteer Pam Pratt said, “It is one of the few things I get to do during my service in which I see a difference instantly.” In a job where so many of us feel flustered and lost at some point, the eye clinic provided a chance for volunteers to connect with Senegalese people in a different way. “It was truly rewarding to work hands on with patients. Much of our work here is striving for behavior change making it difficult to see results in a short period of time. At the eye clinic we had the opportunity to work with people who were blind one day and could see the next; it doesn’t get much better than that. It has been my favorite part of my service to date and something I will never forget,” said Amanda Lyon.
The participation of Peace Corps volunteers during these two weeks was invaluable. Both doctors Donald McDonald and Judith Simon expressed tremendous gratitude to Peace Corps and said that without volunteer help, this mission could not have happened.