Special to the E-T

Stephenville Lions Club president Les Maxwell recently returned from a 16-day mission trip to the continent of Africa, and specifically to the remote town of Kamina in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The club spent about $13,000 to provide several pieces of much needed vision screening diagnostic equipment, along with more than 4,000 pairs of recycled eyeglasses from the Texas Lions Eyeglass Recycling Center in Midland.

Maxwell, along with two nurses from Cleburne and one from Tennessee, hand-carried the equipment over the 12,000 mile journey. Originating from D/FW, they passed through Washington D.C. and Atlanta, then flew non-stop across the Atlantic to Johannesburg at the southern tip of Africa.

From there, they flew north to central African nation of the Congo. The team was greeted by representatives of the Lions Club there in the city of Lumbumbashi which is located near the southern border to Zambia. The final leg of the adventure was a 350-mile flight in a private Cessna airplane, heading northwest across the vast African jungle, passing over the famous Congo River, to a remote place in the lush green landscape called Kamina.

A group of 17 local healthcare workers and teachers were assembled last year and given some training on the basics of visual correction, even though they had no glasses to distribute. This laid the groundwork for what became known as the Kamina Vision Initiative.

Maxwell and the nurses conducted training classes for a week in which the trainees received hands-on instruction pertaining to the operation of the equipment, and how to select the best possible match from the inventory of recycled glasses provided. The training also detailed how to administer a permanent vision screening clinic and set up the necessary logistics and support for ongoing service to their community.

The closest optical clinic where they can be examined by an eye doctor and get new glasses is in Lumbumbashi, which is a three-day journey on an overcrowded train. With a collapsed infrastructure from decades of civil wars, there is no other public means of transportation available. The people there do not have autos and there are no buses.

The few people in Kamina who are fortunate enough to have jobs earn about $15-20 per month, and even if they could make the trip to Lumbumbashi, the cost for a pair of new eyeglasses is far more than their annual income.

“We were pleased at how fast the Kamina Vision team learned the concepts and developed proficiency with the diagnostic equipment,” said Maxwell.

Even though the glasses have been worn by others, they are precious gifts to a person who hasn’t been able to read, sew, or operate any kind of machinery.

The Stephenville Lions Club has made a real difference to a suppressed people who deserve much better. As Maxwell addressed the Vision Team at the conclusion of their training and certification ceremony, “The name Kamina Vision Initiative is quite appropriate, because the word ‘Initiative’ means that something new has begun. Something new, something much needed, something much longed for, has indeed begun here in Kamina.”

Maxwell emphasized that these glasses provided around the world come in part from the people of Stephenville as they are deposited in the Lions Recycled Eyeglass collection bins placed front of Wal-Mart and HEB. He encourages our community to continue donating those unused and outdated glasses that usually hide away in your dresser drawers.

It is estimated that Americans throw away some 140 million pairs of eyeglasses each year into the trash, not knowing that they could be of great value to someone else. Your donated glasses actually do make it to the face of a person in a 3rd world country who cannot afford to buy them.

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter has been a Lion himself for a long time, was actively involved in relief efforts for victims of the Asian tsunami disaster, as well as stateside victims of hurricanes Katrina and Rita. He recently nominated the International Association of Lions Clubs for the 2008 Nobel Peace Prize.