I-See in Uganda

My parents have no recollection of this. But I will probably never forget the day they came home from a parent/teacher conference and accused me of pretending to need glasses. I was in fifth grade and my teacher, Mr. Roth, noticed that I was squinting and having trouble seeing the board. Because I was so fashion-forward in those days (my, how motherhood has changed me), and because so many of my friends were getting glasses, Mr. Roth thought that I was putting on a show of not being able to see in an effort to get glasses. Of all the ludicrous ideas. I couldn’t see and frankly I didn’t know I couldn’t see. Up until that moment of accusation, I didn’t think anything of my squinting and blurry vision. With all of the other changes in my body at that time, this was the least of my worries!

But when I put the glasses on for the first time and I could see individual leaves on the trees and the softball flying toward my nose and the notes I had to copy from the overhead, I realized what I had been missing.

For Steve Saint, the experience was similar. Saint is the founder of I-Tec, an organization that looks at common medical procedures and figures out how to carry those procedures into parts of the world where electricity, clean water, and regular sanitation are considered luxuries. This is his story:

“Oh, I see” my Mom used to say. That is exactly what I thought when I was told that a visiting optometrist from Rockford, Illinois was going to check my eyes along with most of the rest of the missionaries and missionary kids like me. “Oh I see all right” I told my Mom. “I donʼt need to have my eyes checked.”
I always played pick-up basketball after school. If I wasnʼt there when sides were chosen cause I was off having my eyes checked, I would have to sit on the side lines all afternoon. I figured I could see as well as the next kid. But Mom said “You are going to have your eyes checked”. Her tone of voice was clear, “We can do this the easy way or the hard way…”
So Dr. Daniels checked my eyes. Then came the stunning news. I was going to have to wear glasses… all the time; probably for the rest of my life. I was shocked.
A couple of months later the glasses arrived. I tentatively put the awkward contraptions on. They pulled my already sticky out ears even further into lifeʼs slipstream as they slid down my ski-jump nose.
I thought I would just wear these “eye-braces” until Dr. Daniels went back to the States and my Mom forgot I had them. But something happened when I put those lenses in front of my eyes. The world changed. The trees had individual leaves. All I could see before was a green blur. The Andes Mountains had ridges and valleys. The whole world suddenly had texture and I could see it clearly for the first time.
The morning after getting my first glasses I realized why I had to work harder than my friends to shoot baskets. For the first time in my life I could actually see the rim I was shooting at. “Big fat cheaters”, I thought. Anyone can shoot baskets when you can clearly see what you are shooting at. And, I could actually read what the teacher was writing on the black board. Now I could sit in the back of the class without staying after the others left to copy what the teacher had been writing down for us.
Almost half a century later the last thing I do at night is take my glasses off. And one of the first things I do in the morning is put those lenses back on again. These “Eye Sight Enhancers” changed my life.”

One of the I-Tec programs near and dear to Saint’s heart is his I-See kit, which is a portable eye care kit. The kit comes with 200 pairs of eye glasses in common prescriptions, 2 lens ladders for determining lens prescription, eye charts, glasses repair kits, and even a tape measure to make sure that whoever is using the kit is following proper protocol. It also includes a non-verbal teaching DVD so that anyone can learn how to perform a quality eye exam.

i-see 200

Saint describes his vision for the program in this way: “Churches and individuals who are motivated by a desire to care for vision handicapped people with both their sight and heart (spiritual) problems can buy the ʻLevel One Kitʼ for $995 dollars. The level two – ʻthere are a pile of people out where Iʼm going so give me more glassesʼ Level Two kit will include all the tools and eye charts and yes, a tape measure, and will include two dozen, dozen pairs (288) of glasses for $1495. And the ʻI want a pile of glasses at the very best priceʼ – Level Three kit will include everything and the tape measure and three and a half dozen pairs of glasses (504) for $1995.
Here is what makes the I-See program so visionary. You donʼt just go to some far off land and fit a bunch of glasses and leave. No, the idea is that we will not only teach you how to determine who needs glasses – people who will otherwise go on struggling with bad eyes – but we will also teach you to teach a local God Follower who lives where you are going, to continue doing what you started – after you leave. Sustainability is the key here.
We teach you the I-See program and then you teach an Indigenous God Follower to do it (See one, Do one, Teach one). You (or your church or group) buy the kit. You take it with you on that short term missions trip you were going to go on (weʼll lead you through the planning and preparations) and you help needy people while you disciple a local believer to take over from you when you return home. You leave the glasses you have not used from your kit with the local ʻVision Enhancement Technicianʼ.
This is a very, very easy and straightforward plan. In most places your biggest problem is going to be to pick your successor. Lots of people will want to take your place, but you donʼt know who will faithfully carry on what you have started. That is why we will recommend that you work through an indigenous church. They know who is faithful and
who is capable of keeping the I-See program going and who will use it as a door opener for sharing the Gospel and starting or building up a local church.
Best of all, in many places the person that takes over from you will be able to support themselves by offering the ʻSight Enhancementʼ services you taught them. This is how that could work.
You turn the I-See kit over to them when you leave, at no cost. But you ask them and the local church to set a fee that the local population can afford – five to eight dollars per pair of glasses or so. The I-See technician agrees to set two dollars per pair of glasses aside to buy new inventory. The rest of the proceeds form a sustaining salary that allows him or her to spend full time distributing glasses and the Gospel Good News.
We will work with you to replace their inventory at the lowest possible cost by buying in bulk, and then assembling the specific inventory each I-See technician needs to fill the vision needs in their particular area. If they set two dollars (this amount will probably increase slowly over time but will remain affordable) aside from each pair of glasses distributed. That should be enough to replace their inventory (they will only rarely need to replace pliers, charts etc.)
In as little as one week and for as little as one to two thousand dollars we can make it possible for Indigenous God Followers to meet both the physical and spiritual needs of people who canʼt meet this need for themselves.”

And the why? Saint says, “Jesus told us that if we see someone in need who isnʼt in that need because they choose to be or are too lazy to get out, then we should help them. And He said that when we help people that canʼt help themselves, He would consider it as though we had done it to Him. I can tell you what now, Jesus needs lots and lots of teeth fixed and he needs lots of Cloroquin to relieve the aches and fever of malaria this year (believe it or not, one million people will die of malaria this year. Most of them and the forty nine million other people who will suffer but survive could be cured with about a dollar of medicine). And Jesus needs childbirth help and wounds closed and He needs lots of antibiotics. And He needs glasses just like I once did.”

When Wendy Bjurstrom visited Village of Hope, Uganda back in August, Dr. Mac and Nurse Susan commented on the number of kiddos at the orphanage who were having trouble seeing. Through donations, CompassioNow was able to purchase one of these I-See kits and Village of Hope founder Cindy Cunningham took the kit with her this week when she went to visit the villages.

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I am so excited to see the photos of the kids with their new glasses and their new eyesight! What will they see? How will this sight change their vision and their world? Pause for a moment and think about the layers of meaning in those words!

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  1. I-See Update | compassiontea

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