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MSN students return to Ecuador for mobile optometry clinic service week

It’s been called “the greatest health crisis you’ve never heard of” (New York Times May 2018). Impaired vision affects more than a billion people in the world today.

Over the course of a number of service/mission trips to Africa and Latin America, students from the Methodist Student Network (Wesley Foundation) at the University of South Carolina have served more than 10,000 people though their mobile optometry clinic run by students and a supporting optometrist.

There are 2,600 pairs of used refitted glasses in the inventory and some 1,800 pairs of reading glasses. A woman who no longer has a livelihood for sewing and embroidery gets her eyes tested and get a pair of reading glasses, and suddenly her life is changed. She can support her family and provide enough food for the children. A child who has fallen behind in school because he cannot see well is also acting out, embarrassed about his failing. A pair of glasses changes everything. He can see and discovers he is a great student and a great person.

For Spring Break 2022, a group from MSN traveled for the eighth time to Ecuador to work with the Evangelical United Methodist Church.

To gain the gift of vision can create a new world for those have been doomed to a life out of focus. Jesus heals the blind. It is a sign of the in-breaking reign of God. Conversely, some who have 20/20 vision cannot see. They have religion but lack faith to see reality. Such mission trips are about the gift of faith and faith has to do, in part, with seeing with both the heart and the eyes.

The medical clinic in Ecuador was led by Dr. Ron Neuberg, a member at Chapin United Methodist Church. Dr. Ron is usually joined by Ecuadorian doctors who take leave of their practice (and some are retired) to serve remote communities that lack and cannot afford health care. The medical clinics have served more than 15,000 people over the years. Many of the people who came to the clinic in Quevedo were refugees from Venezuela. A medical consultation can often uncover an unknown life-threatening condition that needs advanced treatment. A consultation includes health education and often includes prayer for the patient and family.

Students run the pharmacy, and premed students often shadow the doctors and take the vitals. Local people from the host churches share in the running of the clinics.

Between the optometry and medical clinics, some 1,700 people were served in the course of the week. We always find that at the end of these trips it is ourselves whose eyes and hearts have been opened. It is we who have found healing. Indeed, it is we who have been converted.

Upon returning from Ecuador this March, one student remarked, “That was the best week and a half of my life.”

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