Personally, it’s been a rough year for me. And I have to admit, I took plenty of time to just mope and whine and pout and shout about it. Then I came to my senses and realized that there are a lot of problems in this world bigger than my drama…and maybe it was time to start focusing on what I could do to make the world better, instead of what I couldn’t.
The same need for exploration and real change that led me to become an expat has led me to my latest quest. And I need your help. For real. Listen up, por favor.
Two years ago, I did a sponsored climb of Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Africa as part of fundraising efforts to raise money for a medical clinic in rural Guatemala. I summited, but I swear to God it about killed me. Imagine feeling drunk, hungover, and like you have the worst case of the flu in your life. Then imagine, in that state, doing a marathon uphill, for days, vomiting, while carrying a ridiculously heavy pack on your back. Oh, and you can’t sleep the last few nights, because every time you try, you jolt awake because you stopped breathing for a few moments. Then you will begin to get the picture. The only thing that kept one foot moving in front of the other (outside of the fact that I am ridiculously stubborn) was the fact that hundreds of friends sponsored my efforts by donating money to a charity that gives surgeries that keep people from going blind. I kept imagining a picture of a little 7 year old Guatemalan girl I had seen, and thought about how my efforts were helping to keep her from going irreversibly blind.
Fast forward two years. I now live in Argentina. Uncomfortably close to Aconcagua, the highest mountain in all of the Americas at almost 23,000 ft, and considered by mountaineers to be one of the most dangerous mountains to climb. It beckons. So here we go again. The efforts will be much more intense this time, as the mountain is higher, steeper, meaner, and takes three times as long to summit as Mt. Kilimanjaro did. It is also known for its brutal “white winds”…sounds encouraging.
Many people don’t get the correlation between climbing a mountain and kids in Guatemala. But think about it…we pledge money to charity to support the kids at the local elementary school for the amount of pages they read in a book. Or we pledge money by the mile to breast cancer research for our friend running a marathon. This works the same way. It is money pledged to support effort. Last time I raised $22,000 US, enough to provide over 100 surgeries free of charge to Guatemalan residents going blind. This time, my goal is $40,000. I think big, because when I do, I find that people…including myself…always seem to rise to the occasion. So why not?
A little about the charity, as I never support any charity without knowing whether or not my contribution funds some giant office in Manhattan, or much needed medical supplies instead. And I don’t expect you to, either. VOSH is non-governmental, non-sectarian, and non-profit. The US doctors that volunteer their time for surgeries are asked to pay their own way. Money donated goes towards maintaining the clinics and for supplies. All non-profits should be run so cleanly. It was established in 1990 to make curative and preventive eye care available to the rural poor in developing countries. The VOSH/PA mission (the PA part means that the Pennsylvania chapter of VOSH international is the one that heads up the Guatemala missions) is to empower local eye care specialists in developing countries by building sustainable eye clinics and funding essential ophthalmic infrastructure.
VOSH/PA’s first eye care mission trip to Guatemala was in 1994, to the department of Alta Verapaz – to the towns of Senahú and Telemán. On a small field next to an elementary school near Telemán, they met an American, Vincent Pescatore. In his small Cessna aircraft, he transported them to the northernmost department of Guatemala known as El Petén, where he had established an orphanage known as Farm of the Child. He had been in the area for a while, and had noticed the extreme local need for more specialized medical help in the area. The three eye clinics in Guatemala are now named after him, as he died in a plane crash in Honduras in 1996 where he was building a new orphanage.
The goal of the Pescatore Eye Association is to work toward the “elimination of all avoidable blindness” in Guatemala by the year 2020. Three eye clinics are now functioning and thriving, one in Guatemala City, one in San Benito, and one in Jutiapa.
The clinics are staffed by 80 Guatemalans, including 6 ophthalmologists and 2 optometrists, treat in excess of 50,000 patients, and are self-supporting for operating expenses for adult care. VOSH/PA funds the treatment of all indigent children under the age of 14 years old. The clinics are also funding the training of 4 employees to become optometrists.
I love this charity with all of my heart. They see a need in Latin America, address it, and go straight to the people that need them the most. No bureaucracy. No BS. Free medical care to give eyesight to people who, if left untreated, would go blind for the rest of their life. And they empower the locals to step up and take part in helping themselves and their community. It should always be that simple.
And get this. The cost of not going irreversibly blind? $194. Unbelievable, no, that $194 could be the difference of seeing your children or grandchildren, of being able to read, to be able to work to provide for your family? I know of a lot of people who have no problem spending that amount on their monthly phone and internet bill! This amount covers the surgical supplies, and the doctors volunteer their time and skills.
Are you on board, lovely readers of mine? I am willing to do the hard part…I won’t ask you to climb your @$$ up that God-awful mountain with me this December, but I will ask you to donate! Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know how you are willing to help on this adventure! All donations are tax-deductable.
Here is how you can help:
1. Write a check. Make it payable to VOSH/PA Climb for Sight, and send it c/o Sheri Blaskis, 6034 Myers Lake Rd, Rockford, Michigan, USA 49341. Include your email so I can send you a receipt and a thank you.
2. Paypal it. Go to www.voshpa.org , go to “donate now”, and MAKE SURE that you write a note in the notes section saying that your donation is in support of Cathy Brown, Climb For Sight. Email me after letting me know you did so, so I can send you a tax-deduction receipt and a thank you, and so I know how much closer I am to my goal.
3. Credit Card. If you do not have a paypal account, VOSH can send you an invoice and you can pay by credit card. Email me at email@example.com and tell me how much you would like to pledge.
4. Corporate Sponsors. If you have contacts you would be willing to share, perhaps people who may be willing to be corporate sponsors, hint hint, that would be much appreciated…I will be incredibly generous with advertisement and good PR on my websites, and others media outlets that I am involved with, for any corporate sponsors!
5. Media Contacts. Have any contacts here? Anyone who may be willing to do a write-up or interview?
6. Equipment. My list of equipment that I will need for this climb is staggering. Anyone own a sporting goods or climbing store that would want to sponsor some equipment or give discounts in exchange for good press? Any climbers have used gear they don’t use anymore that they would let me use or have?
7. Moral Support. Even if you do not choose to donate financially, please keep me and this mission in your thoughts. And feel free to send me an email every once in a while keeping me honest and asking me if I got off my butt that day to train hard! I need all of the support I can get.
[Editors note: Please do whatever you can to support Cathy’s efforts. If all of our subscribers to EFAM would donate just one dollar it would vaporize her target. If you are still hesitating about finding a few dollars to donate, please take a moment to look at the before and after pictures of one of thousands of success stories – and be thankful that you have the sight to see them!]
Juanita, now age 4, suffered from glaucoma in her right eye since birth. When she was born there was no eye clinic nearby. She has lived in constant pain until recently when the mother learned of the new Pescatore Eye Clinic. Clinic surgeons removed the eye and a prosthesis was inserted. Juanita is now pain-free and has hope for living a normal life free of ridicule from other children.
Tragedies like this can be avoided with a 20-minute surgery soon after birth. Six health promoters are working daily in the jungle identifying children in need of treatment. Conditions such as congenital cataracts and glaucoma, corneal scarring, crossed eyes and need for glasses are all treated at the nearby Pescatore Clinic.
About the author: Cathy Brown is the editor for Expat Daily News South America www.expatdailynewssouthamerica.com and Expat Daily News Central America www.expatdailynewscentralamerica.com . She is originally a minivan-driving soccer mom from Michigan, but now is living the adventurous life of her dreams in Argentina with her husband and three young children.