Eyesight is a precious gift and regular visits to an eye doctor are important. But it's not that easy for people living in third world countries. That's why medical missions to Nigeria like the one WTOC Video journalist Barry Lewis and Dawn Baker went on a few weeks ago with the Goodness and Mercy Foundation are so welcome.
For the most part, the people of Ajalli face the same illnesses we do, but since there isn't an eye doctor in the village or near where they live, the eye clinic was the most popular place during the weeklong medical mission.
A line forms for the eye clinic every day and hundreds of people crowd into the building. It's a very important step, since many of the patients have noticed their eye sight diminishing over the last few years and there isn't an eye doctor for miles around.
"I cannot read Bible or magazines because I can't see the print, so that's why I have come here. I heard that you people are coming to help us as usual," said Felecia Nwanko.
In America, we can get reading glasses just about anywhere. Many times they cost as little as $1, but in this Nigerian village, when people start losing their sight, glasses are in short supply. In fact, they didn't have any until the Goodness and Mercy volunteers came to town and opened an eye clinic.
When that happens, the word spreads and people come looking for help. The eye clinic is the most popular place during the annual medical mission. There are so many patients, volunteers remain busy from sunrise to sunset. One of the days we were there at the clinic, volunteers handed out more than 600 pairs of eyeglasses.
Savannah City Councilwoman Edna Jackson was on their team. "What I think is so good is the people will wait. They will just sit and wait. They are very patient all they want to do is get some help," said Jackson.
"They register many months ahead of time and they come and wait in line in the morning. They get called about ten at a time. We triage them, some nurses will check their blood pressure and sugar levels," explained optician Ryan Trettien.
If blood sugar levels are high, the nurses refer the patients on to a medical doctor to check for other health problems before they can get their eyes checked. But if their blood pressure and blood sugar levels are normal, they are sent to another line where they take an eye exam. Each patient sits there and tries to read the letters on the eye chart.
"Then they see a Nigerian optometrist who will write them a prescription for glasses and they will come out here and wait in line and we will give them their glasses," said Trettien.
"Then the marvelous thing is when you see the smiles on their faces," said Jackson. "They're able to read the chart for the first time."
"Very far sighted patients who have never been able to see and all of a sudden a big smile they get and they light up and they can see their Bibles and see where they are going for the first time," said Trettien. "It's a very good feeling it makes it all worth coming over here."
Michael Ese is glad they did come. Family members say he has only been able to see blurry images all of his life until now. Today is the first day he is able to see clearly.
His son is overjoyed. "I am very, very happy cause he can see very clear now and I thank America. God bless America," said Basil Ese
It took a few hours, but now Felecia Nwankwo is as good as new. Remember she had not been able to read for the last year because of her sight.
"It's super I don't know how I can express our happiness that you people are coming here to treat us freely and without taking any money," she said. "I am very, very happy. We pray that God will bless you give you long life and prosperity and health."
And the stories of thanks and appreciation were everywhere. Ekwi Nafu loves reading, but he hasn't been able to for the last 10 years because of his poor eyesight. Thanks to some reading glasses and eye drops, his life is forever changed.
"I can now read. Thank you very much. I thank God for your services," said Nafu.
Twelve-year-old Repheal Enugbe could only see images close up before he got his new glasses. Now he can see across the room. "I felt good, at least now I can see well and I can use it to read well in class," said Enugbe.
The success stories come one after the other as these volunteers worked hard to screen and fit more than 2,200 people with the proper reading glasses.
"It is very exciting that someone who has not been able to see very well can come here and we can help them," said Trettien. "It's a really good feeling and I enjoy doing it."
Even though they had their share of success stories, many of the people who came through the eye clinic could not be helped with reading glasses. They needed more.
Tomorrow on THE News at 6, we'll show you where those patients ended up and explain the very special connection these miracles had to some very generous students from right here at home.
If you would like to be a part of the Hands Across Africa medical missions, call 912- 232- 6048. The upcoming mission dates are next June. You can be a part of the team to Ghana or Nigeria or both. Volunteers travel to Konongo, Ghana June 1st through June 7th and Ajalli, Nigeria June 8th through June 14th.