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Serving Our Home Country

By Erica Liao, May 16-17, 2015, Sanger, CA

Over the past few years of its existence, STL has been able to send a multitude of teams on successful mission trips to Taiwan. Last year, we even ventured into new territory by sending our first group to the Philippines. Our biggest development in 2015 has been serving in our home country, in the humble city of Sanger, California.Sanger is a city of Fresno County, nestled in the Central Valley of California. The population consists of mainly Latino migrant workers who work in the agricultural industry. The median income for a household is $32,072, with about 23.7% of the population below the poverty line. Many of the inhabitants have been heavily impacted by the drought, losing work as farming production declined and packaging facilities closed down. The unemployment rate was 11.3%, more than double the national average, as of April 2015. In response to the need, STL commissioned a team of nine volunteers in May 2015 to serve the people of Sanger.

Erica Liao showing a patient and her daughter an eye chart

Clinic was set up in the community center of St. Mary’s Catholic Church, where we examined 195 patients and distributed 110 pairs of glasses through a combined effort of four optometrists, five STL volunteers, and eight translators/facilitators from the parish. Since most of our patients work long hours outside in the harsh sunlight, we not only provided prescription glasses to help them see, but we also provided many safety glasses and sunglasses to protect their eyes from the harmful UV rays. Some had suffered injuries to their eyes or their systemic conditions, like diabetes and high blood pressure, were affecting their eyesight. Many did not have any vision insurance and were relying on our weekend clinic to provide them with the necessary care and glasses.

In addition to clinic, STL develops and presents public health seminars that are tailored to the local population. Our Spanish-speaking volunteers were an amazing help, jumping from patient to patient to assist in translation. They also helped deliver our presentations on management of sugar intake in both Spanish and English. The presentations explain the effects of sugar in a person’s diet and how it can lead to higher risks of heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. Our mission is not only to equip our patients with eyesight, but also provide them with the tools and education to live healthy and thriving lives.

Location was not the only new development on this trip-- we were able to purchase a new piece of equipment and use it for the very first time. Through the generosity of our donors, STL was able to purchase a portable autorefractor, a device that provides a measurement of a person’s refractive error. This device helps streamline the exam process, giving the optometrists baseline readings to be able to more quickly measure patients’ prescriptions. The portable autorefractor has traveled to Taiwan on two of our mission trips this summer and has been an invaluable addition to our equipment base, improving accuracy and productivity. We look forward to using it during our future mission trips.

This trip was especially worthwhile from the perspective of our STL staff, as it was the first mission trip for two board members and one officer. Having been quite accustomed to working in the back-end in preparation for trips, it was certainly a different experience to be working face-to-face with the people we serve. Although much of STL’s time and resources are spent serving those abroad, we have become increasingly aware of those in our very own neighborhoods that may need our help. Going to the Central Valley provided an opportunity for local friends and supporters from California to dedicate a weekend serving those in need, and gave many optometrists who normally would be unable to take off multiple weeks to travel abroad, a chance to volunteer as well. Our hope is to inspire more U.S. residents to volunteer their weekends, experience the work that we do, and even motivate them to consider joining future trips abroad.

These interactions are a living testament to all of the hard work that STL does in the name of Christ. A big thank-you to all of our supporters-- both financial and spiritual! We are extremely grateful for your continued support and contributions, and look forward to exciting new developments in the year to come.


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