The pressure starts to rise as the deadline approaches. February 16th is ticking ever closer and there are just short of a million things to be done. Each year Houston Vision Source Optometrist Dr. Moes Nasser’s mission trip to Tanzania proves to be a frenzied orchestra of logistics and organization. Communications extend out to vendors, field reps, corporate vice-presidents, government officials, friends, colleagues and patients. And it spans across states and nations. All is orchestrated by just a handful of people 14,000 miles away from those who will be directly affected. In Tanzania, a country of 47 million people, where 80% of the country lives on less than $3.10 a day, there are fewer optometrists than staff members organizing this mission trip. This is Dr. Nasser’s home. His annual mission trip is nothing short of a miracle.
Dr. Nasser grew up in Tanzania, in a village where his one room school house is now nothing more than a crumbling heap. He often jokes that he “went to school under a tree”. Now, fifty years later, the tree is in better shape than the school. And yet for all the poverty and lack, each year he returns astounded at the level of happiness and contentment he finds amongst his people. Each year he returns reinvigorated and determined to launch a larger campaign the following year. In the beginning it meant more glasses, more medicines. Then, it was the establishment of a clinic in the capital. Now it is a mobile examination room and lens lab to reach patients in the countryside. Hundreds of Tanzanians walk dozens of miles to his village to see the doctors. They wait in the sun for hours and days. Hundreds are seen daily, and yet even at that frantic pace, they cannot all be seen. There is not enough time, not enough days. The mobile clinic will allow greater access to more patients. More sight gifted. More lives change.
This is the 8th year this production has played itself out. The phone calls begin late in the 3rd quarter of the previous year, littered with explanations of the living conditions and stories of the successes of previous years. Favors are called in, and favors granted. Relationships between companies are built stronger by the efforts provided and the requests fulfilled. Nouveau Eyewear set an extremely high bar 2 years ago by providing 800 brand new frames for the patients of Tanzania. Luxottica showed up on the doorstep the following year with an unexpected surprise; a matching number. And there, as always, is Zeiss and Alcon. Hundreds of lenses donated and edged to fit the frames. Medicines are delivered to combat and treat glaucoma and macular degeneration. Tens of thousands of dollars in donated supplies are gifted for thousands of patients, all due to the efforts and reputation of the man asking for help.
And then there is the money.
A mobile clinic is not a small undertaking. $100,000 was required before a serious discussion could even be started. So began the work of raising the money.
It is difficult to explain what it’s like to ask people for money, particularly for a lot of money. It is even more difficult to explain the emotions that wash over you when you don’t even have to ask. When the President of Coopervision announces to his entire company a 5 figure donation, you are humbled and in shock. When the employees of that same company send additional money on their own, you are floored. When your friends respect your efforts so much, and understand the situation on the ground so well, that they send blanks checks and tell you to fill it out, you are amazed and overcome. When your own patients, some who have been with you for 30 years, contribute a dollar, five dollars, one hundred dollars, five thousand dollars you stand back in awe at the generosity of people towards those they have never met and never will. It slowly begins to add up. Five thousand, ten thousand…twenty. $70,000 was raised in the United States prior to the trip. The rest will come from the business community in Nairobi. Within two years, the clinic will be up and running and reaching remote villages across the country. Eyesight gifted. Lives changed.
Vision is our most extraordinary sense, and it is our easiest to both lose and to protect. A simple piece of plastic or polycarbonate, shaped and polished in the correct manner and fitted into a conglomeration of zyl or metal can mean the difference between a lifetime of ability and a lifetime unfulfilled. It can allow a child to learn to read, a craftsman to continue their work and a people to expand, grow and thrive. More than all of that, it allows a people to look upon the faces of the friends and families with the utmost clarity. What we take for granted each and every day can lift an entire nation. This is why Moes Nasser boards a plane every year with four suitcases and a determination not found in many men. It is out of a sense of duty and compassion, honor and debt. It is one of the greatest trips a man could make. And when he returns, he will have left a country better than when he found it.