Restoring Sight in Paraguay

November 6, 2013 by TOMS

The Gift of Perspective

Since 2010, TOMS Eyewear has been investing in solutions to help restore sight to people in need around the world. And in August 2013, we were able to launch our first employee Giving Trip to observe one of our Sight Giving Partners in the field. So, it’s particularly fitting that our Vice President and GM of TOMS Eyewear — Jeff, but we call him Gilby — would be on this trip to see our partners’ work in action.

What were your expectations going into your Giving Trip? You know, you see videos of our Sight Giving and what our Giving Partners are doing. You hear about how we help our partners do more outreach and screenings to help identify those who have needs. But until you actually see it, I don’t think you can understand the impact of it. It allowed me to put everything I’ve seen and heard about TOMS Sight Giving into perspective.

What was something completely unexpected that you learned? The lengths that Fundacíon Visión goes through to simply get people into vision screenings are just incredible. The staff travels as far as 3-4 hours outside the city to screen remote, impoverished communities, and the outreach can take weeks.

In one neighborhood of indigenous Paraguayans, they’d get the word out through the community church. As people were leaving each service, staff members would hand them a flyer announcing the screening date and letting people passing by know that it was free to them. They explained how the screening would address various visual problems and needs in that community. And then they’d give extra flyers to give to their neighbors and friends so the reach is as broad as possible.

The main purpose of the screenings was to identify people with cataract. At TOMS, we learned the biggest cause of avoidable blindness is cataract, and it accounts for over half of global blindness. What’s even more amazing is that all it takes is a simple, 15-minute surgery to remove a cataract and help change a life. Fundacíon Visión operates extensively to treat this issue, starting with identifying those afflicted, then providing them with the information needed to have a cataract surgery. They also help patients get to the clinic.

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Were you able to observe a cataract surgery? We were! It was really amazing because TOMS Eyewear purchases help provide surgeries of this kind to people in need. There were about six of us on the Giving Trip who got to scrub in and watch a surgery. We saw a 78-year-old woman who had extremely limited sight for 15 years; she was completely blind for the last two years. We observed her from getting prepped, to pre-op, to actually having a cataract removed from one eye.

We were fortunate enough to have the doctor that runs the organization walk us through every step of the way. While we were behind a window about eight feet from where he was operating, there was a flat-screen TV in the room showing the intricacies of the procedure — it was fascinating. We watched the incision being made, and then the surgeon removed the cataract and replaced it with an artificial lens. It only took about 15 minutes. We just stood there shaking our heads…amazed.

Did you meet anyone else who received surgery through a TOMS Eyewear purchase? There was a mother of two young kids at the clinic who had her cataract removed a couple weeks prior. She was explaining to us what she could see that day versus what she could see back then; there wasn’t even a comparison.

She was in tears as she talked to us, thanking us as TOMS employees for what we do, because she would never have gotten that opportunity otherwise. Her sight had gotten so bad that she was afraid to even cross the street with her children. The procedure changed her, and her children’s, lives.

Parting thoughts? It’s amazing what we can do to help thousands and thousands of people that we will never know or see. But the fact that we are doing it brings my team enormous satisfaction, knowing that the hard work they put into this TOMS Eyewear pays off in very big ways.