In a developing country, a pair of eyeglasses can cost the equivalent of a full year's wages for an entire family, and when choosing between food and clothing or a family member's eyesight, food and clothing wins every time, Terry Narum said.
Narum has spearheaded an eyeglasses recycling program through the Minot Lions Club going on 12 years. The club takes donated pairs of used eyeglasses and sends them to various countries with optometrists going on mission trips.
The idea for the program began when Jill Martinson, a Minot optometrist, spoke at a Lions Club meeting about mission trips she had gone on. Martinson spent a lot of time getting glasses ready for the trips. The club decided to help out by collecting donations and getting glasses ready.
Katina Tengesdal/MDN - - The Minot Lions Club uses Cross Country Courier to ship boxes glasses to optometrists going on missions trips. The group gathered July 20 to send a shipment of close to 10,000 pair of glasses to an optometrist in Minneapolis. The optometrist will be taking the glasses to Vietnam. Pictured, from left, are Deb Michels, Minot Lions Club member; Terry Fix, terminal supervisor for Cross Country Courier, Warren Gamas, president of Minot Lions Club; and Terry Narum, Lions Club member.
"The first year, we had an eyeglasses drive at Dakota Square. The second year, we enlisted the help of churches and schools, and we ended up with four tables that were just mounded, plus an extra pickup load," Narum said.
"Since then, it's kept growing, and we take donations all year long," he added.
The club has since sent about 675,000 pairs of glasses around the world, and has sent glasses to every continent but Australia and Antarctica.
To get the glasses ready for the trips, the club sorts them, hand washes and dries them, and puts them through a machine that reads the glasses to determine what prescription they are. The glasses are then sent to the optometrist that will be going on the trip.
While Narum had always been involved in the process of collecting and getting the donations ready, he had never been on a missions trip. As he plans to wind down his involvement, he decided it was time to go on one of the missions trips.
"I figured now was the time to get that once-in-a-lifetime trip in," Narum said. "Most mission trips will send us a synopsis and pictures, you look at that and think about it for maybe a few weeks and you go back to your same routine. When I went on a trip, I had a lot of time to think. It was a moving experience."
Narum traveled to Brazil with Dan Long of Mandan and other volunteers from the Bismarck Baptist Church in early July. The team worked with the Chain of Love orphanage in Brazil to distribute glasses.
The Chain of Love orphanage has a unique relationship with social services in Brazil, Narum explained, and often take the worst of the worst cases. The orphans are raised within family units side by side with the biological children of the families, and are treated as equals.
Narum spoke about being affected and inspired by the kids at the orphanage, and by those he saw at the clinics.
"The kids are a big part of it. Your heart goes out to them, you can see the pain in their face and how long it's been since things went right for them," Narum said.
At the clinics, security was a concern, especially due to the value of the glasses. Chain of Love had to negotiate with drug lords in the area for permission to hold the clinics; and because of their reputation for helping out the community, they were allowed permission. Huge crowds came out to the clinics for a chance at getting a pair of glasses.
"At the last clinic that we did, the police helped with crowd control. The line went on both sides of the school building, five to six people deep, and that school was large enough to cover a city block," Narum said.
Narum was impressed by Long's ability to see so many patients in such a short time, and the endurance he showed in continuing to work for up to four hours at a time without a break. Long's exams involved greeting the patient, checking for eye disease, determining the type of correction needed and writing a prescription. Long completed his exams within two minutes in order to get to as many patients as possible.
Though the clinics moved quickly and saw hundreds of patients, Narum said it was still hard to see that not everyone could be helped.
"It's pretty tough to walk away from somebody and say, we have no help for you today, if we didn't have the prescription they needed," Narum said. "As far as unusual prescriptions are concerned, the more glasses we take, the more chance we have of finding somebody who needs them."
Over the time they were in Brazil, Dr. Long and his team worked at five clinics.
Narum said that over the course of a year, the Minot Lions Club will ship three to 12 shipments of glasses to different optometrists going on mission trips. He continues to encourage eyeglass donations.
"A lot of people have an old pair of glasses they've got lying around, maybe in a drawer somewhere," Narum said. "You can donate that pair of glasses and we can get them to somebody who needs them."