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Dr. Koumjian Describes Volunteering in Nicaragua

Karen travelled to Nicaragua through Volunteer Optometric Services to Humanity (“VOSH”). VOSH is a non-profit organization whose mission is to “provide the gift of vision and quality eye health to people worldwide”. The organization achieves its goal by organizing eye care clinics in underprivileged locations in the U.S. and abroad. In this Q&A, Karen describes her experience volunteering with VOSH in Nicaragua in January 2017.

  1. Why do you volunteer with VOSH?

I volunteer with VOSH because I love bringing my skills as an optometrist to people who have not had the opportunity and/or finances to see well, if at all. It’s a great feeling to make a difference in a person’s life by helping them to see. Improving people’s sight means helping them to see their family, work efficiently, drive, study, read, cook, and more.

I enjoy how the intense clinic environments forge close bonds between the optometrists, students, and volunteers. Plus, the patients give us energy with their smiles, blessings, and hugs.

To top it off, the trips provide volunteers with rich opportunities to immerse themselves in other cultures through food, language, and sightseeing.

  1. How many VOSH trips have you been on?

I have been on at least ten VOSH trips ranging from countries such as Mexico, Venezuela, Guatemala, Armenia, and – most recently – Nicaragua.

  1. Who typically volunteers with VOSH and in Nicaragua?

For the last 4 years I have gone to Nicaragua with a team from New England consisting of students, doctors, and volunteers. There are usually about 10 of us.

This year, our VOSH group worked with a medical team from Birmingham, Alabama. They performed surgeries, dental procedures, pediatric and oncologic care for one week at the best hospital in Granada, Nicaragua, which is the Japanese hospital.

  1. Describe the experience of working in the clinic.

Though considered the best hospital, the Japanese hospital has no air conditioning and bathrooms without functioning toilets. The VOSH team set up our clinic in a simple, large room with all of our handheld instruments.

People line up by the hundreds outside of our clinic. In four days, we examined 700 people, from children to the elderly. We also provided patients with eyeglasses, artificial tears for dry eyes, and sunglasses – certainly helpful given the area!

  1. What was your favorite work-related moment in Nicaragua?

I examined someone who had severe myopia. It was satisfying to find a high myopic prescription in a good-looking pair of frames so the person could finally see clearly!

  1. What was your favorite non-work-related moment in Nicaragua?

Definitely witnessing an active volcano in Masaya Volcano National Park.

  1. Do you plan on going on another VOSH trip?

Absolutely! I plan on returning every year. When I retire, I intend to go to more third world countries. Volunteering through VOSH is a great way to see the world and to contribute to mankind.