This November, Rayjon gave me the opportunity to participate in their eyeglass clinic. Every year, the Rayjon Eyeglass Team organizes and carries out two clinics, distributing eyeglasses donated at locations across Ontario. This year, the November clinic team travelled to Guatemala to offer a five-day clinic in the town of Rabinal. The trip was an experience of a lifetime for me as I prepare to study international relations in university. It gave me so much insight into the lives and challenges of the Guatemalan people, while also allowing me offer some of my abilities to the eyeglass team. I know that what I experienced in Rabinal is something that will remain with me for the rest of my life. I would like to share just a few of the special moments that I experienced during the clinic.
First I should begin with providing a bit of background information about Rabinal. Rabinal is one of Guatemala’s poorest cities. It is very isolated, six hours by road, through the beautiful Guatemalan mountains. Indigenous peoples make up about 5% of the world’s population, but at least one-third of the world’s poor. More than half of Guatemala’s population is indigenous and these people are definitely among the most disadvantaged in Latin America. Through observation, we could see that the government of Guatemala has, for many years, ignored the plight of Rabinal’s Achí Mayan population. These people suffered from malnutrition, unemployment, and many other issues, not to mention the after-effects of the “Silent Genocide,” in which thousands of Guatemalan Mayans were murdered in the 1980s. Rabinal was the site of two of the bloodiest massacres of this genocide and continues to feel its effects with many struggling widows and orphans in its population. What touched me most about the people of Rabinal was their great determination and perseverance. The Achí people of Rabinal have been subjected to unimaginable horrors and injustices, yet they continue to smile, to laugh, and to hope for better days in the future. We were fortunate enough to be in Rabinal for the very important “Día de los muertos” or “All Souls Day.” We visited the city’s cemetery and genocide memorial, both of which were decorated with colourful flowers, candles, and food. The people of Rabinal were celebrating the lives of their loved ones. The atmosphere was one of hope and of determination to create a better life for their next generation. Seeing this beautiful tradition definitely left me with a sense of hope.
During the clinic, I again saw so much hope and happiness while working with the patients. I had the absolute honour of helping to translate in the fitting section of the clinic. It was so rewarding to see each of the unique patients receive their eyeglasses. The reactions of the patients were always so positive. For many, the world of sight was being opened up for them for the first time in their lives. What better gift is there than the gift of sight? I was especially moved when I saw students who have never been able to see the blackboard receive their pairs of glasses. As a student, I know how important having glasses is for studying and that education is so important for this community to rise out of poverty.
For me, it was also such a pleasure to converse with each of my patients, to learn a bit about their lives. The people of Rabinal truly were fantastic. I will remember each smile, each hug, and each kiss I received and I hope that the eye care that our team was able to offer them will help them in working towards their many goals!
Rayjon Youth Member