A Foxboro mother and daughter were among a group of residents who recently assisted at an eye clinic in a rural Mexican village during a one-week service trip.
The effort, sponsored by the Foxboro Rotary Club, helped hundreds of patients there.
The Guerrero Clinic provides eye, dental, and other medical care to the indigent people within the state of Chihuahua and other parts of Mexico.
Katherine Udden has known of the Guerrero Clinic for a few years and has wanted to go, but it had not fit into her schedule until this year.
“I volunteered in Southeast Asia in my 20’s and know that this type of trip is so rewarding and wanted to share this experience with my daughter,” Udden said. Since her daughter Sophie is a nursing student in her sophomore year at Pace University, she knew that with volunteering at the Guerrero Clinic, her daughter would have hands-on experience working with patients which would help her in her schooling and career.
“The experience was incredible. To meet and help so many patients who do not have access to health care was truly moving. The joy on their faces when they could see often brought me to tears,” Udden said. “The patients were so appreciative of the help they received.
Many caring wonderful physicians and non-medical individuals volunteered together and through the work, mission, and the experience, it built strong bonds and friendships,” she said. “Many of us are already talking about volunteering together at the June 2020 clinic.”
Her daughter Sophie, 19, said: “My mom and I are very close and we saw this opportunity as a great learning experience for both of us. I was able to work in the operation room all three days and was able to assist in surgeries in a limited capacity.”
Sophie hopes to become a nurse and work in a NICU where she would be able to help the babies and their parents.
“The clinic gave me a peek into the health care field, especially working directly with patients, surgeons, and optometrists/ophthalmologists. I also was able to learn about different surgical instruments and how to prepare numbing medication for surgeries,” Sophie said.
Sara Kafel, 18, who is entering her senior year at Foxboro High School, was also among the first-timers in the group helping at the clinic.
“When I saw a post from Lew (Gordon) about it, I knew right away I was going,” said Kafel who is a part of the high school interact club. “The most shocking thing I saw in Mexico was how happy the children were to receive one small toy.”
But, Kafel added, “by far, the most rewarding thing I have experienced from the trip was seeing the patients’ reactions after surgery, and how incredibly thankful they were to everyone. All the patients I met there were so genuine, warm, and kind.”
Without a doubt, she said she will return to the clinic again.
“I want to go as much as I can because it was truly one of the best experiences of my life. I think if anyone has the means to volunteer at this clinic in Mexico, they should go. It is truly rewarding and gives you a different perspective on life.”
Rotarian Lew Gordon, who was a chaperone for the group along with Udden, said the Guerrero Clinic is open three times a year.
He said at least 200 patients were treated in the clinic. Patients, mostly Mexican, were members from the local Tarahumara Indian tribe, and members of the local Mennonite community. The volunteer team handed out hundreds of pairs of glasses. According to Udden, 147 cataracts surgeries and 300 eye exams were performed in three days in the clinic. Udden was working in pre-operation room where they kept track of the surgeries on a list.
About 20 volunteers from the United States, and an equal number of local volunteers, including about 20 local students, plus Mexican medical volunteers, such as optometrists and surgeons, ran the clinic which is operated through a collaboration between the local Guerrero Rotary club, the Rotary club in Lake Jackson, Texas, and VOSH (Volunteer Optometric Services to Humanity, vosh.org)
Gordon said it has always been rewarding to see the patients’ happiness when bandages are removed and they can see better, especially cataract removal patients. There are lots of tears of joy, and appreciation.
Gordon said Sara and Sophie both worked in the surgical area. Sara helped prep the patients for cataract surgery and Sophie worked in an operating room as an assistant to the optical surgeon.
The clinic processed patients both for surgery and for prescription glasses, bifocals, and sunglasses. The trip included some evening entertainment including local performers, a cookout and some sightseeing in Chihuahua.
After leading 5 service trips, Gordon emphasized there are significant benefits to the participating students and volunteers such as empowerment by given opportunity to make a direct, significant, and tangible contribution to improve the lives of the patients which build self-confidence and motivation to further service, gaining a wider and more empathic world view through contact with another culture and socioeconomic status, and the opportunity to meet and work with both medical professionals and also medical students which provides many motivating examples to follow and helps to clarify their future educational and career choices.
To learn more, visit guerreroclinic.org.