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San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

January 6-13, 2018

VOSH-Connecticut held its seventeenth annual eye care clinic in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua on January 6-13, 2018. This was the twentieth year of service at this site to the San Juan del Sur area, the seventeenth under the auspices of VOSH-Connecticut, along with three previous missions under the auspices of VOSH-NECO. The team consisted of 73 mission members:

Directors UC Berkeley University
Audrey Blondin – La Jefa Emmalena Boyd (1st)
Amanda Dieu (2nd)
Optometrists Angelica Estrella (2nd)
Dr. Matthew Blondin Michelle Holmes (2nd) – Leader
Dr. Marc Berson Ashlynne Kim (2nd)
Alison Kyaw (2nd)
Dr. Brian Lynch John Krochmal (2nd)
Dr. Thomas Margius Courtney Robinson (2nd)
Dr. Robert Mingrone Rebecca Stapornkul (2nd)
Dr. Jennifer Eberlin-Nagel Connie Tran (2nd) – Deputy Leader
Dr. Karen Norrick Celesti Hao (2nd)
Dr. Kathleen O’Leary Caitlyn Lew (2nd)
Dr. David Palozej Thuy-Trang Nguyen (2nd)
Dr. Lee Robertson Lauren Ogata (2nd)
Anthony Palesis (2nd)
Volunteers Felix Wong (2nd)
Ronit Berson Michael Wong (1st)
Kevin Creed Anna Wu (2nd))
Sara Bozzuto
Riley Palozej MCPHS
Carter Norrick Hyder Almosawy (3rd) – Leader
Slayton Hargraves – Clinic 6 Mark Bassily (3rd)
Paige Nagel Ashlyn Chazhikat (2nd)
Valerie Mingrone Jacob Diedrich (3rd)
Becca Hales (3rd)
Kristin Kosch (3rd)
Yuyeng Lor (3rd)
Fransheska Martinez-Medina (3rd)
Optician Andy Sakovits (2nd)
Mareshah Lynch Justin Schaefers (3rd)
Matthew Testa (3rd)
Translators Larae Zimprich (3rd)
Jennifer Borja
Robert Cockrell State University of NY (SUNY)
Sylvia Cockrell Christienne Aure (3rd)
Molly Fenaroli Hannah Canuto (3rd)
Jennifer Lliviganay – Clinic 6 Mina Chen (3rd)
Famya Baig (3rd)
Dispensary Tatyana Budarina (3rd)
Sally Lee Karen Fu (3rd)
Grace Lee-Niosi Sarah Marasco (3rd)
Nora Lorion Jessica Serra (3rd)
Kaylie Buck Alex Yang (3rd) – Leader
Paxton Buck Elizabeth Zhu (3rd)
Colleen Mangum
Anne-Marie Dutil

In addition to patients seen in and around the San Juan del Sur area, the following buses organized by Orlando Sevilla, Dra. Rosa Elena Bello and Lena Ruis, provided patients all 4 days at a cost of $5,109.

VOSH-CT Buses 2018
Towns Served & Fees Paid

Monday – $1234 Tuesday – $1585
Ostional – $85 Cardenas -$125
Monte Cristo – $200 Cardenas -$125
Pochote – $190 Nandaime -$150
Rejega-$184 Malacatoya -$300
Tola -$125 Pueblo Nuevo -$200
Masatepe -$380  (2 Buses) Rivas -$70
Rivas -$70 San Jorge -$120
Tortuga -$167
Collado -$133
Tola – 125
La Virgen -$70
Wednesday – $685 Thursday – $810
Tola -$125 Rivas -$70
Rivas -$70 Belen -$105
Rivas -$70 Masatepe -$190
Nandaime -$150 San Jorge -$120
San Jorge -$120 Tola -$125
Cardenas -$150 San Geronimo -$200
Miguel Granja – Transportation of all the barrios and campsesinos surrounding San Juan del Sur for four days $795

Total $5109

As in years past, approximately 65 local volunteers assisted with the mission. Dra. Rosa Elena Bello supervised the mission and the local volunteers as she has done for the past 20 years, along with assistant Lena Ruis.

In addition to the 1800 pairs of glasses purchased by VOSH-Connecticut from the Virginia Lions Club, 5,000 pairs of sunglasses & 1,000 pairs of readers were purchased by VOSH-CT. The dispensary once again was run very organized and efficiently by long-time VOSH-CT member Optician Mareshah Lynch and another long-time VOSH-CT member Chief Dispensary Assistant Sally Lee. The dispensary included experienced team members, Grace Lee-Niosi,  Nora Lorion, Kaylie Buck, Paxton Buck, and Colleen Mangum and many local volunteers.  New to the Dispensary Team were Anne Marie Dutil and Valerie Mingrone. Laura Bush, General Manager of Encore Optics, were very generous in donating lenses so personal prescriptions so desperately needed but not available at the time of the mission could be made here in the states and transported back to the patients in Nicaragua for distribution.  More than 500 pairs of brand new eyeglasses were made thanks to a very generous donation from Essilor Vision Foundation.  We would like to thank all the offices involved in edging those lenses, Drs. Matt Blondin, Brian Lynch, Bob Mingrone and Anton Rao, as well as the students at MCPHS. Another 100 pairs of varying prescriptions were also made by our personal office staff and brought along, which was very helpful and useful in the dispensary. In addition, Dr. Lee Robertson’s Mom, Raema Robertson, and friends made over 4,000 beautiful cloth eyeglass cases which the patients loved and we so much appreciated.

Colleen Mangum was terrific in handling the patient count each day – along with her daughters Paxton and Kaylie and her dad Kevin Creed. Our three student leaders, Michelle Holmes, Hyder Almosawy and Alex Yang provided excellent leadership and assistance with the students throughout the week, and we are very grateful for all they did to help before and during the mission. Our office assistant Jennifer Lliviganay and her friend Jennifer Borja provided wonderful translating and assistance with other services throughout the week, along with Molly Fenaroli and Robert & Sylvia Cockrell, and Clinica 6 had some great optometric assistance by future optometry school hopeful all the way from Alaska Slayton Hargraves.

As we started a few years ago, each mission member was asked to transport one supply bag and most mission members as part of the transport team arrived in Managua on the same day & time per our request to assure that everything got through at one time. There continues to be no choice but to mandate that anyone transporting a bag must arrive with the group or whatever they have will be taken at customs. Fortunately, this year we had the paperwork ahead of time, so we didn’t have too many problems at customs, and we will try to do this every year to help avoid unnecessary complications and delays. We also continue to be very appreciative of the generosity and kindness of Dr. Brian Lynch, who has donated thousands of readers at his own expense to our missions over the years and joined us again for his 17th VOSH-CT mission, as well as the return of veteran mission members Dr. Robert Mingrone, Dr. Tom Marguis, Dr. Kathleen O’Leary and Dr. Lee Robertson.  All of the doctors were great with all of the students, including our four new OD’s Dr. Marc Berson, Dr. David Palozej, Dr. Jennifer Eberlin-Nagel and Dr. Karen Norrick. Carter Norrick was our youngest mission member and several other members are considering optometry or possible other health-related careers including Valerie Mingrone, Ronit Berson, Paige Nagel and Riley Palozej.

The Pelican Eyes Hotel where many of us stayed was great under the very helpful and watchful eye of Enrique and the entire Pelican staff did everything they could to help us in every way they could, and we are most grateful for all of the wonderful help & assistance they provided to us all week long. We also continue to receive excellent service from Richard Morales, owner of Gaby Transport, along with his drivers and helpers. Richard and his company provided safe and reliable transportation services to the group and its members throughout the mission, and we are very grateful for everything Richard did to help out on our behalf. We are also appreciative of the help provided by Richard and his wife Ruth in assisting us with needed mission supplies, tables and chairs for the clinic, along with the delicious baked goods and cakes from Ruth’s sister, Mirna Perez. In addition, Roger Mahieu, Jr., owner of True Value of Litchfield, once again donated 100 nail bags which were distributed to mission members and volunteers and used to hold eye glasses and sunglasses, and we are most appreciative of his continued kindness and generosity and support of our mission. We also continue to acknowledge and appreciate the tremendous amount of work our office assistant, Nicole Gaynor, as well as our foster son Orlando Sevilla, do each year throughout the year in preparation for the mission. We also continue to be very appreciative of the support our mission has received from the local area Lions’ Clubs including Harwinton, Litchfield, Branford and Windsor among others.

The clinic was held for the twentieth year at the Centro Escolar Enmanuel Mongalo y Rubio. It was set up Sunday, January 7th, 2018 with 9 examination rooms, a dispensary & lunchroom. Lunch of 40 local pizzas and bakery goods was provided by VOSH-CT. The clinic officially opened on Monday, January 8th, 2018 at 8:00 a.m. Breakfast was provided each day by VOSH-Connecticut beginning at 7:00 a.m. Patients were seen from 8 a.m.-1 p.m., with a break for lunch provided by VOSH-Connecticut from 1:00-2:00 p.m. Clinic then resumed from 2:00-dark. As in the past, VOSH-Connecticut provided for all expenses for both mission members and local volunteers relating to the clinic including breakfast, snack, lunch, at a cost to VOSH-CT of $2,000 for the 4 day mission. Marina and her family and staff did their usual wonderful job of cooking and providing all of the food and food services as she and they have done for the past 20 years and Marina was also very grateful for the new shoes I was able to buy for her as well as our night watchman. Certificates of appreciation and participation were given to all participating mission members. Our veteran security teams returned once again, providing great service to the clinic and all participants throughout the week. Group pictures were taken on Wednesday and a very nice dinner at the Pelican Eyes was hosted by VOSH-CT on Thursday evening.

Over the four-day clinic period, we saw 4,688 patients, a VOSH-CT record, broken down as follows:

Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Total
1,159 1,480 1,185 864 4,688

Over the past 15 years, we have seen a total of 48,317 patients broken down as follows:

(2003-3,158) (2004-2,530) (2005-2,607) (2006-2,283) (2007-2,359) (2008-2,428) (2009-2,674)

(2010-2,853) (2011-3,259) (2012-2,772) (2013-2,696) (2014-3,129) (2015-3,188) (2016-3,205) (2017-4,488) (2018-4,688).

Numerous drugs were requested and donated from Alcon Laboratories, Inc. and Allergan Pharmaceutical., which were very useful and helpful to the patients throughout the mission. We have also continued our relationship with the Norwalk, CT Sister Cities program under the direction of Tish Gibbs, who once again provided a bus this year from Nagarote which all worked very well.

Escalating mission costs continue to present a challenge. Total mission expenditures now   exceed $18,000 per mission, funded solely through volunteer donations solicited primarily by myself through the CAO, as well as through our yearly mission fees and the generosity of our close friends and associates. We continue to be appreciative of the generosity of the members of the CAO and others, as well as our mission members, who give so generously not only of their time but financially as well.

San Juan del Sur and the surrounding area continues to grow and evolve, although from our continued observations, the need to provide eye care has not diminished in any way, and in fact continues to grow as we continue our efforts to outreach to the out-lying communities where the need is greatest.  It is our plan to continue to look for more places to outreach and provide services to, especially as we continue to have the amount of volunteer eye care provider support that we have in the past several years from the doctors and students. Next year we will officially celebrate our 20th anniversary of service to the San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua area and we are hopeful that we will continue to be supported by some younger members and volunteers to continue to insure the on-going continuity of the clinic and its services.

Throughout each mission, we all try to do the best that we can with the limited resources available to us, and once again, as our mission came to a close, mission members came away with a great deal of satisfaction knowing that a great many in need were helped by their generous and unselfish efforts. Fortunately, this year we didn’t face any personal security issues like we had last year, as we emphasized and will continue going forward to emphasize the importance of personal responsibility and personal security in a foreign country, especially when excessive alcohol use is involved.

Kelvin provided great news coverage before and during the mission in his Del Sur News and we were also interviewed while we were there by the news media from Managua as well as a group of Social Media reporters. We also were able to provide services to the Barrio Planta Project and we were able to visit the Free Adult High School under the direction of Dra. Rosa Elena Bello.  Katie Brugger is once again working on a mission video and a goal this year is to promote our mission efforts through some additional media sources. We also need to enhance our social media presence, and again will be looking to several of the younger mission members to help assist with this endeavor.

VOSH-CT continues to be grateful to all of those, both here and in Nicaragua, who work together as one to provide eye care services to so many who otherwise would have none.

Respectfully submitted,

_____Matthew Blondin_______________________            _____Audrey_Blondin____________

Matthew Blondin, O.D., F.A.A.O.                                             Audrey B. Blondin, Esq., “La Jefa”

Clinic Director                                                                            Clinic Director

February 10, 2018