It became apparent to me last summer that a good portion of people in my village were leading their daily lives in a state of blurriness. People would squint to recognize me on the street; teachers could not decipher the text in their textbooks. Investigating into why people were not using glasses I found out that more than being a financial problem it was a problem of priorities (aka Kyrgyz-Cha).
Glasses are sold in Karakol, a one hour drive from (my village) Taldy-Suu. In Karkaol a pair of reliable glasses and a check-up costs $6. A roundtrip taxi between Taldy-Suu and Karakol costs an additional $3. This puts the total price of glasses and a check-up at $9, a price affordable for most village residents. A pair of prescription glasses cost as much as a birthday cake. Cake however is more highly valued because cake has the power to cause the dreaded offense. Locally known as Obidilsya, (Обидилься).
Obidilsya and Obidilyas, (Offense in English) is a feared word in this part of the world. The more potential offense that something can cause, the higher priority it is given in Kyrgyzstan. For example, if somebody invites a local Kyrgyz to a party and they are not able to go for some reason this will be a reason for great anxiety and fret for them. They will worry incessantly, lose sleep, and fear that their inability to go to their party will cause offense the person who invited them. Or if they need to give a gift to somebody and they do not have the money they will take out loans or find other ways of borrowing money (selling one’s kidney is not out of the question) in order to not cause offense. If you do not give cake to someone on their birthday they will be offended, however your state of blindness does not cause offense to anybody. Therefore unfortunate as it is, due to its low priority poor vision often goes untreated in Kyrgyzstan.
Set on trying to fix this problem, I went about the town in an attempt to raise consciousness of the importance of good vision. Most people I talked to realized that they needed glasses, and moreover wanted glasses however due to the low-priority and associated effort that was required to get glasses they were deterred. I proceed to work out negotiations with an eye doctor in Karakol. We agreed that if I could gather payment from ten people his team would come to Taldy-Suu and issue glasses on the spot. We worked out that each customer would only pay $6, a third of the price of the price that it would cost them if they were to go to Karakol.
I gathered payment from ten of the teachers at the school, called the doctor and we set a date for him to come to Taldy-Suu. Our ‘Youth Development Committee’ then designed simple advertisements and placed them around major commercial points (hospital, stores, municipal building). Yesterday, February 12th the Doctor came to Taldy-Suu. More than 40 people came out to have their eyes checked and if deemed necessary, receive glasses.
We were able to distribute glasses to 27 village residents, some who were classified with ±4.0 vision.
We also officially diagnosed glaucoma, cataracts, and other eye related disorders for 12 other residents.
Unfortunately, we were not able to assist 2 illiterate five year-old children because we lacked the proper technology. This was a completely local project, with no involvement of Western aid. Local doctors provided local residents with the restoration of their vision for a fee of $6. Upon finishing, one of the teachers asked me, ‘Andrei, when are you going to bring a dentist to clean our teeth?’ However, with her mouth full of gold, I am not too sure what she wants a dentist for :)