Americans love being able to step outside and see the flowers blooming or trees changing colors, but for people in other parts of the world, just being able to see their children’s faces is a challenging task.
Abby Houtman, managing member of Simply Yoga Indy and vice president of sales for eye wear company Luxottica, spent two weeks in Mtubatuba, South Africa, providing eye care and glasses for those who needed them.
“The trip was through (Luxottica) and our group OneSight,” she said. “Most of the people who go on the trip are optometrists, and I’m just a lowly sales person. I felt fortunate to be chosen as just a lay person to go.”
Houtman said there were 35 people who went on the trip to help more than 6,000 people in rural areas receive eye care and eyewear.
Houtman said the experience was truly amazing.
“There is nothing like seeing the look on someone’s face after you put glasses on them for the first time and they can really see clearly,” she said. “There was one woman who started crying, saying that she had no idea what her 2-year-old daughter really looked like and now she would know what her daughter looked like. It was such a transformation for them.”
Houtman said the hardest part about the trip was leaving.
“It was an ideal situation while we were there,” she said. “From a provisions standpoint, we were always well taken care of. Our team immediately gelled and that made it hard to leave. Being a part of such a joyful opportunity, it was a really humbling experience.”
Houtman said she did have some trouble adjusting to life back in the states.
“The hardest thing was to see all these young people in terrible conditions that are so full of joy and full of life,” she said. “Coming back and not seeing quite the same level of joy made the transition tough. We are blessed with so much, and sometimes people forget about that. People in that area would walk for miles and miles to get to their appointments and then have to wait for hours because there were so many people. They would never complain, though.”
Houtman said she was worried about helping out with eyecare since she is normally just involved in sales.
“It’s not the most pleasant experience, having your eyes dilated,” she said. “I had to administer the drops to dilate the eyes, and there’s often a lot of pain when you go out into the light after having your eyes dilated. I was scared about it, and the little kids were so polite and brave, and that made me confident.”
Houtman said there was one time when a man came to receive eyecare and did not have a pleasant experience.
“He was the biggest, most masculine man in the village,” she said. “After I gave him the drops, he was screaming and crying saying how badly it hurt. I turned to the kids, pointed at them and said in their native language (Zulu) ‘Really? So brave.’ They all started laughing, and it was fun to see humor transcend language, color and all those other barriers.”
Houtman said her favorite memory was seeing people’s reaction after being able to see clearly for the first time.
“There were all these older women saying that they could read their Bible every day or that they could see their children,” she said. “To hear that feedback just made me realize that piece by piece and bit by bit, we were making a big difference.”