Iolans help spread sight worldwide

Register Reporter

Photo courtesy of Bob Hawk
A woman in Kolkata, India, sports a new pair of reading glasses crafted through the Iola Rotary’s “6110 Vision Quest” foundation. The program creates reading glasses for 45 cents per pair and can be used as a small business venture in developing nations.

“And in that day ... the eyes of the blind shall see out of obscurity, and out of darkness.” Isaiah 29:18

There is no moment so fulfilling as watching a person whose vision had been blurred for years suddenly see clearly, said Iolan Bob Hawk, who along with local optometrist Ellis Potter has traveled the world distributing eyeglasses and teaching people in impoverished nations how to construct reading glasses with simple materials.
One woman told Hawk, “they changed my life.”
The El Salvadoran woman, who needed +400 lenses, now can see to thread her sewing machine and earns a living making doll clothes. She could not see well enough to do the work before, Hawk said.
Potter and Hawk are members of Rotary International, a service organization that sponsors the trips.
“I’ve been on seven trips,” Hawk said. “The first time, in 1994, I went to Honduras.”
The two go under the auspices of VOSH/International. Groups like Lions Club International collect used eyeglasses, Potter said. These are repaired, then Volunteer Optometric Service to Humanity “takes all the donated glasses and delivers them throughout the world where people can use them,” Potter said.
“We put glasses on almost 12,000 people,” Potter said of the six VOSH trips he and Hawk have been on.
New is creating reading glasses on the cheap, a project known as “6110 Vision Quest.”
“We started doing these VOSH trips and then discovered Vision Quest” Potter said. It was serendipity that introduced the men to the concept at all, Hawk noted.
During a 2007 presentation in Wichita about disaster response, Hawk inadvertently left in a slide from one of Iola Rotary’s VOSH trips.
A woman in the audience came up to Hawk and said, ‘‘We have this missionary friend in Florida who teaches people to make reading glasses for 35 cents.”
After talking with her, she called Dale Rosell, the missionary, and “he called me the next day and I ordered the kit.”
The kits, an evangelical outreach for Rosell, contain a simple jig for making glasses using welding wire, plastic tubing and polycarbonate lenses. A complete kit with instructions, tools and materials to construct 314 pairs of glasses costs only $250, Hawk said. He began taking the kits on VOSH trips.
“We could leave the kit and they could help themselves,” Potter said.
Though the cost of the kit is reasonable, it is expensive delivering them overseas, Hawk said. Shipping the 26-pound boxes outside of the United States costs more than the full kit, he said.
“Anytime someone is traveling outside of the country, we’d like them to take one of these kits along,” Hawk said. The kit box, smaller than a suitcase, can be included as a piece of checked luggage and delivered to a Rotarian “on the other side,” Hawk said. That Rotarian then trains individuals to test vision and make eyeglasses. The glasses cost approximately 45 cents per pair to make, Hawk noted.

A JUNE VISIT by Hawk to the International Rotary convention in England led to expanding Vision Quest training to India.
Hawk took just a few pairs of glasses and brochures to England with him. He figured the cost of shipping would dampen interest in the kits as an international project. Yet in England, ophthalmologist Dr. Samar Das and Rotarian Michael Ratcliffe both seized upon the project’s potential.
“You must go to India to train people to make the spectacles and duplicate the project there,” Hawk said Ratcliffe told him.
In November, Hawk and Potter taught Rotary-selected individuals at six Rotary eye hospitals and one community center in Calcutta (now known as Kolkota). “We ended up training 70 people,” Hawk said.
The Rotarians in India selected mainly unemployed young people to train, Hawk said.
“It provides a twofold benefit because it helps people to see and provides an opportunity for employment,” he noted. “The plan is, they are going to totally replicate this project in India. They ordered enough lenses to make 10,000 glasses,” he said.
The glasses are made from three segments of 1/16-inch stainless steel welding rods bent to form ear pieces and the front piece to hold the lenses. Lenses are notched to snap into place on the frame. It takes about 15 minutes to complete one pair, Hawk said. The glasses require no electricity or water to produce, perfect for developing nations.
With an abundance of raw materials there, “the only thing they’ll have to get is these lenses that come from China,” he said.
In El Salvador, where Hawk previously brought the kit, a church now sells glasses for $2 a pair. The person making them is paid $1 per pair, Hawk said, noting coffee pickers in the region earn $5 for eight hours of labor.
In India, he said, they hope to sell the glasses for less than $1 per pair.
“It has earnings potential,” Hawk said.
Potter noted that 60 percent of people with vision problems can be helped by reading glasses.