An Eye at a Time
Founded by Eric Greene
Creating a New Vision … An Eye at a Time
by Eric Greene
On July 4th, 2018, my life changed. I was 16 years old and arrived in Africa with my father (an optometrist) and 500 pairs of glasses. My first mission.
Six months earlier my uncle, also an optometrist, told me about his trip to Africa and the impact he had. I was inspired! He had gone to visit his son Matthew on the West Bank of Luxor with his wife Jackie and grandson Stephen when word got out that there was a visiting eye doctor. A local village leader invited my uncle to help at the village’s free eye clinic that provides only sporadic eye care.
The clinic had a limited examination room and very basic equipment such as an eye chart, autorefractor, and slit lamp. Working with a translator, my uncle examined over 40 patients ranging from 5 to 70+ years old and saw a variety of issues. Unfortunately, he could do little to help beyond the examination. There was no medication available and no eyeglasses.
The extreme desert conditions and cultural aversion to wearing hats or sunglasses meant there was a huge need for eye care. The list of ailments was long and common among all ages, from corneal degeneration to scarring, old foreign bodies, and conjunctivitis.
It struck me that I could help the people of the West Bank. I worked as an optician and optometric assistant at my father’s office, Greene and Greene Optometry in Watertown, Massachusetts. After a couple of weeks at the drawing board, I had a plan. My goal was to supply the people of the West Bank with free eyeglasses and provide eye care in the clinic with my father, Dr. Martin Greene. I had an outline of potential donors and a plan for starting a non-profit organization.
As luck would have it, the owner/founder of an eyewear company came into the practice a few weeks later to personally check inventory levels because he was understaffed. I pitched him my idea and he was very willing to help by donating some of his own company’s overstock glasses. After a dozen calls and messages, we finalized his donation of hundreds of frames and a plan for getting them to Egypt.
With a solid plan in hand, I reached out to Matthew about the idea. He didn’t hesitate to contact the clinic and they were beyond excited about our support. They even offered to host us and show us around some of the ancient ruins in Luxor.
Over the next month, I worked with an accountant and lawyer from the Offices of Marco Seidman, CPA in Wellesley, Massachusetts who helped us pro bono to legally build a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization — An Eye at a Time. Thrilled for our mission, my Dad and I booked our flights, got hepatitis and typhoid vaccinations, and prepared for the trip.
Things were running smoothly until two weeks before our departure. Out of the blue, the owner of the eyewear company called to say he couldn’t supply any glasses. Shocked, and with only two weeks to go, my Dad and I started reaching out to other sources for eyeglass donations. Due to the amazing generosity of Dr. Lee Lerner from Waltham Vision Care in Waltham, Massachusetts, Michael Shaer Optical in Peabody, Massachusetts, and Drs. Levine and Abbondanza from Vision Care Specialists in Southborough, Massachusetts, we were able to obtain 500+ pairs of eyeglasses! We were so grateful to them.
It was a long but smooth ride to Egypt and when we arrived, we were welcomed by everyone like we were family. We spent the first two days adjusting to the time change and 120-degree heat. We toured some of the local tombs, temples, and ruins, and everywhere we went people thanked us and treated us better than anyone could imagine.
During those first two days, we learned that the people of the West Bank live by a barter system and have built a society where nobody is dying of starvation despite having very little (economically). One fascinating fact I learned was that there is one bread maker for the entire village. He makes the bread for everyone and in return receives milk, meat, bananas, etc. for his family to live on. This society was amazing. Nobody was selfish and their overwhelming generosity and kindness grew from strong cultural norms and a lack of economic disparity.
On our third day, July 4th, we went to the clinic. We turned left on a dirt road, like most, where we came upon a three-story mudbrick building. The dry cement stairs were lined with people as we hiked up to the third level where the exam room was. When we entered the dull, one-room waiting room with old wooden benches we were greeted once again with the outstretched arms of 50+ men, women, and children of all ages.
My Dad and I spent the day working nonstop alongside a translator and an ophthalmology resident giving eye exams and fitting people for eyeglasses. I personally saw over 75+ people that day using the autorefractor to help determine their prescriptions while my Dad did the medically oriented exams. After each exam, we gave free eyeglasses to the patient if needed. These were the fastest hours of my life and when the clinic shut down there were still more than 30 people waiting to be seen. I left feeling slightly shell shocked.
The next day we went back, and word had spread like wildfire. People packed the stairs, and we could barely navigate through the waiting room. While my Dad was setting up, I went outside to pass around Jolly Rancher candies which I had brought from the U.S. for the patients. I met all types of people who were in need … farmers, herders, bakers, teachers … because nobody had money or health insurance. Despite that, they were honestly the happiest people I have ever met.
I noticed that the men and boys greeted me with handshakes and practiced their English while only some of the women greeted me with a handshake. I found out later that in this culture a woman doesn’t normally shake a male’s hand but if she does it means she sees you as part of their family. When I learned this I deemed it quite an honor. Even those women who didn’t shake my hand smiled warmly and thanked me profusely.
We worked nonstop again the next day seeing hundreds of people. I met many memorable people but three stood out to me. The first was a 5-year-old girl who smiled through the whole exam. Mohammed (our translator and new friend) told me she dressed up in her black and red flower dress to get her eyes checked because it was such a special occasion. He also said she had just started school and was beyond thrilled to have the opportunity to learn. Many of the girls I met didn’t attend school but rather stayed home and helped around the house until they were ready to get married. This little girl was on a mission, and she inspired me to appreciate the educational opportunities that I have before me and often take for granted.
A 15-year-old boy was the second person who left a big impression on me. He also attended school but complained about headaches and getting tired when he read for a while. It turned out that his vision was poor making it a struggle to differentiate the letters in his books. At that moment I realized how much I take my good health and ability to seek medical attention whenever needed for granted. I was humbled. He also taught me about perseverance. He had gone his entire life without being able to see clearly but had found a way to succeed in school unlike many other kids his age. His determination to remain a student trumped all odds.
Lastly, the 75-year-old goat herder left me in awe. He worked in the fields his entire life herding his family’s goats. His eyesight was so poor it would be like viewing the world through a steamed-up window. Yet he never complained even once. He radiated happiness and was proud of his work that supported his family. He was so thankful for our help and for giving him his very first pair of glasses. He was one of the most grateful people I had ever met. I’ll never forget his positivity.
Moving forward I hope to help more farmers, herders, students, bakers, butchers, mothers, fathers, children, families, and communities around the world. I am planning a second mission to Egypt in July 2019 but require donations to make it happen. If you can help, we would be very grateful.
An Eye at a Time is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization
All funds raised go directly towards the missions and providing people like those on the West Bank of Luxor with the eye care they desperately need to lead healthier and more productive lives. Each donation makes a difference, and we welcome all donations, large or small.
Thank you! Best regards, Eric GreeneFounder, An Eye at a Time