Antonio, 53, has been a bus driver his entire life. It’s all he knows how to do. He can’t read or write, but he can manoeuvre a 40,000 pound vehicle better than most through the streets of Maneadero, a suburb of Ensenada, Mexico on the Baja peninsula. But, he has a problem; his eyesight is beginning to deteriorate.
Just last week, Antonio could no longer see the eye chart during his license renewal exam. He was told to get glasses and come back to retake the test. Unable to afford glasses, Antonio feared he will lose his job and his source of income to support his family. He has a wife and young son who depend on him.
The Centre for Vision in the Developing World at Oxford University estimates that 1 billion people around the world are visually impaired and lack access to corrective treatment. Even if access is available, the poor cannot often afford eyeglasses and therefore are unable to work, go to school, or support their families.
The life of a bus driver in Mexico is gruelling. Antonio works every day from 5 am to 11 pm. On a good day, he will make 50 pesos (less than 3 US dollars) after paying a rental fee for the bus, gas, and the daily permit. Even his salary combined with his wife’s income at a local factory is barely enough to get by. Antonio recounts one occasion when the three of them only had one kilo (2.2 pounds) of tortillas to eat for 15 straight days.
Anxious and worried about possibly losing his job, Antonio fortuitously overheard some of his passengers talking about International Relief Teams (IRT) program, in partnership with the Ensenada Rotary Club, coming that weekend to the area, providing free eyeglasses and exams in his neighbourhood. IRT works with local partners in Mexico and Guatemala to set up temporary clinics in rural, poor regions for residents that lack access to eye care.
“These eyeglasses are small miracles for the poor,” says Rose Uranga, IRT Director of Operations & Program Development. “They enable school children to learn, and give adults the ability to work and provide for their families.”
After receiving his free exam and a pair of glasses from the IRT volunteer team, Antonio left the clinic that day in tears, hugging the IRT staff and full of gratitude. Antonio was overflowing with emotion because he understood the value of these glasses, they were not just a piece of metal and glass to him, they were his lifeline that saved his career and source of income to support his family.