El Salvador receives sight Norm, Esther Burton help at Kent doctors eye care clinic

Chad Dryden Published:

By Angie Reedy Record-Courier correspondent Every February for the past five years, Norm and Esther Burton of Ravenna have been volunteering at an eye care clinic in El Salvador headed by Dr. Bill Brinker of Kent, who has been running the clinic for more than 40 years. Because the Salvadoran economy has been depressed by the recent war and the fall in coffee prices, the people are among the poorest in Central America. This year, the group of 50 volunteers from the United States and Canada saw about 6,000 people who received glasses, cataract and other surgeries, false eyes and medical consultation or treatment. They were located in Juayua, a town the size of Ravenna in the dry mountain region of the country. Most of the glasses that were given were donated by people from Northeastern Ohio, such as clubs like the Lions and Rotary. Glasses are often left on the Burtons porch. These glasses are cleaned, affixed with prescriptions and boxed at work parties held in Leppos Barn in Kent. This year, they had 10,000 pairs of glasses as well as medical supplies and equipment. The Burtons said the people of El Salvador are a delight to help. The Salvadorans call the volunteers angels from God, give them hugs and sometimes shed tears of happiness. One grandmother who had been blinded by cataracts for 15 years told the Burtons that this was the first time she had seen her 11-year-old granddaughters face. Having received their glasses, others were thrilled that they could thread a needle again or read their Bible, the Burtons said, which gave the volunteers a real sense of accomplishment. Grace Brinker and her son, Hans, empowered people by fitting false eyes. The Burtons said it was amazing to see the peoples reaction to their improved appearance. The 50 eye-care volunteers, along with 50 local volunteers, worked for two weeks beginning at 8 a.m., and not stopping until the last patient was seen anywhere from 5 to 8 p.m. The housing accommodations were in a nearby town up in the mountains where much coffee is grown. An old school bus from the United States transported the group each day. The Burtons said it was a beautiful drive to begin and end the day. A typical day began with a short religious service and breakfast before the bus departed for the clinic. Long lines of people would already be there waiting, and the volunteers went to work in a huge pavilion that would house about seven stations where patients would be tested and fitted for glasses or sent on to consultations with Dr. Brinker and perhaps on to surgery. After a quick lunch around noon, the work began again and continued until nearly 8 p.m. some days. Esther worked in distance vision and Norm steered people to the proper station. An evening meal was followed by songs, videos and local speakers before heading to bed. The weekend was spent at the beach and visiting ruins. This projects scope extends beyond the volunteers who travel to Central America. Many people collect glasses and work in the Leppos Barn throughout the year. The volunteers who make the trip range from 21- to 84-years-old and many have gone for multiple years. Everyone pays their own way. The volunteers are always looking for donations of glasses.

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