YETEBON, Ethiopia (WXOW) - There are roughly 1,500 enrolled at the Project Mercy school.; none wears glasses. The Gundersen team discovered that's not because they have perfect vision.
Without enough text books for all of her students, the board is Meghan Smith's most effective teaching tool. At least she thought it was, until Meghan noticed one of her students, who sat just a few feet away from the board, couldn't see the words. "I was guessing she wasn't the only one. I've never seen any of my students wear glasses before, and with a few hundred students, there must be at least a handful that can't see the board."
Meghan was right. Gundersen volunteer Sally Hillesland is a retired nurse and trained in vision screenings. "Most of these kids have never had a vision screening in their life." Sally and the other Gundersen team members screened a few hundred students. They found many students and even some teachers desperately need glasses."There are some that really have to be three feet away from the chart to read it well."
Meghan is working with a charity group in her hometown to pay for eye exams for the students with the most severe vision problems. It's a process that could take months. Meghan doesn't expect to get glasses for her students until next fall. The delay is frustrating for the Gundersen volunteers. "I would love to be able to come in and make a change much more quickly and see things happen faster and to see the results. But I think the biggest challenge is time. It's going to take time," said volunteer Jean Ann Gundersen.
The team will be long gone by the time their work has an impact on these kids, but Meghan says it will have an impact. "Their main mission might be to serve in the hospital, but they are doing so much more than that."
Meghan will have to take her students two hours north to the capitol city of Addis Ababa to see an eye doctor. There is an eye exam room at the Project Mercy clinic, but there isn't a doctor to staff it.