Optometrists Open The World's Eyes About Sharing Couple Is Farsighted About Recycling Glasses

November 11, 1990|By Jennifer Keats | Jennifer Keats,Contributing writer

Unused and out-of-style eyeglass frames with scratched or discarded lenses overflow the Annapolis carport. But optometrists Robert and Lila Schwartz are unconcerned -- the glasses are part of what they call "the greatest recycling program in the world."

The Schwartzes, members of a non-profit, independent group called Volunteer Optometric Services to Humanity, plan to distribute the glasses in Third World nations.

The couple made their first trip with a VOSH group to Haiti about eight years ago. The trip was exhausting, but the couple has continued traveling to Third World countries, providing people with eye exams and glasses.

"On our first trip, there were only three optometrists and three students. We were set up in a dance hall, a bar," Lila Schwartz said. "The country is extremely primitive. It is one of the poorest countries I've ever seen.

"We saw 1,000 (people) in four days, but this was our smallest mission."

On subsequent trips, her husband said, the group examined more than 2,000 people. Many of the patients seen by VOSH had never had an eye exam nor owned glasses.

Thousands of usable eyeglasses are collected and sorted biannually by the Lions Club Association for Sight and Hearing. Ernie Leeger, past president of LASH, said the Lions collect glasses from drops in grocery stores and optometry offices and take them to the Lions Club in Ellicott City.

The Lions sort all usable material and turn the glasses over to the non-profit VOSH. VOSH groups around the United States travel to Third World countries taking optometrists, students, supplies and glasses.

"LASH is the umbrella group for most of the Lions clubs along the Eastern Shore and had been collecting glasses from different optometric offices and shipping them to a United Nations agency in New York," said Robert Schwartz, one of four directors of the Maryland VOSH group. But the UN group could not decide what to do with all the glasses.

"Just at that time, we went to a LASH meeting and made a presentation about VOSH," added Lila Schwartz, Robert's wife and fellow director. "We told them we needed glasses."

LASH responded by asking, "How about 35,000 pairs?"

The Maryland VOSH group has visited Haiti, Honduras and Cancun. Although the first leg of each trip lands the mission in a large city, volunteers are transported into small, remote villages, usually by a host group of the Lions or Rotary clubs.

VOSH's budget is limited to about $4,000, including $2,000 in scholarship money from LASH. Optometry students who wish to make the four-day journey get $250, but must pay about half the airfare.

Practitioners pay their own way as well as supply 250 pairs of glasses.

Volunteer is a word that continually crops up when discussing VOSH. The Schwartzes tell of their second trip with the International VOSH group, when volunteers from an Indiana college drove buses from Chicago to Honduras so transportation would be provided for the group.

For the next mission to Guatemala in January, usable glasses will be delivered to Opportunity Builders in Glen Burnie. Mentally disabled and handicapped employees there will be paid for their work assembling and packaging the glasses.

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