While my colleagues were busy settling into our new office, helping The Children’s Hospital move across town and producing and directing a reality show competition, I had the opportunity to experience a different kind of reality. In early September, I joined 22 other volunteers from across the country in Ladakh, India as part of the dZi Foundation’s (www.dzifoundation.org) dental and vision clinic. During the course of a week, we partnered with The Himalayan Dental Relief Project (HDRP) to bring dental care to 484 children in that region — ages 3 to 18. We also screened more than 700 kids in the vision clinic. If the child required glasses, we measured the refraction of their eyes and assembled prescription glasses immediately, on a no-fee basis. How did we do this on the spot? The fabulous Foco-Meter. The Foco-Meter is an amazing instrument, the size of a soda can, and does not use electricity. Once we measure the refraction of the child’s eyes, we can create a pair of prescription glasses by using generic frames and interchangeable lenses. Additionally, when a child has more than a refractive correction and needs a lens specifically ground, the team would e-mail the prescription to Delhi. The prescription lenses are then ground and put on the plane and flown up to Ladakh within the week. The glasses are distributed to the child by dZi’s in-country staff and then the child is re-tested to make sure the glasses are perfect.
People often ask if I had training in either field. Truth is, I have an incredible fear of dentists and I am blinder than a bat. Fortunately, the program directors were wonderful and worked with each one of us so we felt confident in our respective roles prior to ‘suiting up’ the first day of the clinic. I was given the role of registering each child as they entered the clinic as well as teaching them about dental hygiene while they waited to see the doctors. My new friend, Patti Cogswell, and I spent hours singing songs (quite comical given the language barrier) and holding a giant plastic mouth and enormous toothbrush as we demonstrated the best way to properly brush their teeth.
If you ever have the opportunity to get away and volunteer, be sure to consider the dZi Foundation. The organization was founded nearly a decade ago with the desire to give back to the people of Nepal, a society which had so openly accepted the dZi founders into their culture. In 1997, founders Kim Reynolds and Jim Nowak, on one of their many trekking and climbing trips to Nepal, were inspired to support a small Kathmandu safe house for girls at risk, called The Friendship House. Following successful fundraising for the safe house, and several more climbing and trekking trips in Nepal, the decision was made to expand the foundations efforts.
When I started GroundFloor Media nearly six and a half years ago, I told myself I would take some time off after I hit the five-year mark. As you can imagine, time off while growing a business is hard to come by. Fortunately, I am now surrounded by an incredible team who I trust with my life. I feel blessed by all that we have and wanted to give back to those who have not been as fortunate. My time in India is really difficult to describe. Suffice it to say, the friendships I developed and the children I was privileged enough to work with, changed my life.
Namaste – Laura