"Travel and the spirit of Volunteerism" Personal Page by mtncorg
Most of us travel to experience something different; to see something we would not normally see or experience. That can be as simple as a beach, a new continent, an amusement park or another environment entirely. Another variety of travel that has gained popularity in recent years is that of volunteer work. The type of volunteer effort can be as varied as the reasoning behind the act of volunteering. Books have been written outlining the vast multitude of possible volunteer trips one has available: archaelogy, biological, religious, the list goes on.
In recent years, as an optometrist, I have become involved with an organization - Lions In Sight (www.lis.org) - affliated with the international service organization, Lions International. Lions clubs are local groups, mostly local businesspeople, who join together in a sense of communality and also serve back to their local community in the form of service work. One of the larger missions of Lions International is vision care - inspired by a call from Helen Keller, herself: eye banks, eye surgeries, vision clinics, recycled eyeglasses, etc.. LIS has run over 100 clinics all over the world.
These clinics typically run from two to four days and have examined thousands of patients, distributing thousands more of recycled eyeglasses. Something as simple as a pair of eyeglasses cam mean a lot to the person receiving them. I have been involved in ten different clinic trips and cannot begin to tell you how many people who have received their first pair of glasses and the immediate joy on their faces; the ability to be so much more productive immediately restored to them. Many of us take it for granted that if we have a problem with our vision, it is not a big deal. We simply go to the eye doctor, get an exam and some glasses. The people we meet on these trips don't have this luxury.
For me, the gratification of helping a lot of people is a very powerful reward in of itself. But I also get to experience areas of the world that I might not have thought to go as a 'normal' tourist. Not only the unique destinations, but also the unique people that I get to meet at these destinations: fellow eye doctors or other American volunteers helping on the trip; the local volunteers - local Lions members and their families; the invaluable people who are helping with translation.
They are what really make a trip so much more of an experience for me - a life adventure. To meet these people and interact in a very strenuous environment - we see hundreds of people on any day; to see their world; their town; their country through their eyes is an experience a 'normal' tourist just cannot think about. For me, the adventure is addictive.
I have thus far included narratives of two such clinic trips thus far: Kathmandu and Sarajevo.
I hope to include more in the future as I have been fortunate to help on trips in other locations as far flung as Argentina, Panama, Sri Lankha, Palestine, etc..
An article written in a professional journal describing my last trip to thje east coast of Sri Lanka foloowing the tsunami, can be found here: Eye mission as well as on my travel pages for both Kalumnai and Batticaloa, Sri Lanka.
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