Tuesday, November 30, 2010


Today we began discussions with the General Manager of PNR(Philippine National Railway) to return in two years to TONDO a much neglected area of Manila where many informal settlers reside next to the railway's right of way. We visited the railway station in TONDO where we hope to set up another TWECS clinic. Before then, we will be in Chinandega, Nicaragua in November 2011. 
If you are looking to experience something different, come join us. 
Thank you to everyone who made comments on the blog and those of you who were following, we had over 3000 hits in the 2 weeks that we've been blogging.  Please contact us through our website at www.twecs. ca.

The End

The final clinic day is done and the send off parties are over. 5700 patients have been seen and over 5000 eyeglasses given away. Wow, what a successful project! Many thanks must go to the incredible Olongapo volunteers of Mayor Bong and Nikka trading who provided great support in security, direction and translation. As you can see from the photo it took many caring hearts to serve 5700 of those less fortunate.  After saying goodbye to this eclectic lot, the TWECS Team spent a few days R&R in Manila before flying out for the hustle and bustle of their normal lives in Canada. The Team travels home with fresh memories of new friends, kind faces and touching moments they will retell to their loved ones.
By the end of the second week, we were averaging 700 patients per day, 200 more from the first week.  The first week was a bit of an adjustment for everyone and a steep learning curve for new team members.  Not only are you battling the extremes of temperature, humidity, acclimatization, and jet lag, your digestive system is also adjusting to the new foods, and bacterial flora.  Emotionally, you are battling your anxiety as you share rooms and meals with complete strangers and live on a regimented schedule of eat, work and sleep.  Mentally your battling the self-doubt, the doubt that you can handle the challenges and surprises to come. You have definitely jumped outside your comfort zone.  And so the first clinic day comes with lots of questions from team members. But by the end of it, everyone better understands their role, their strengths and their reason for being there.  By the second week, you have won the battles of heat and food and jet lag. And team members are no longer strangers, but life long friends you have formed a kinship with.  And it is then you realize the anxiety you felt earlier has become joy and humility in seeing the happiness that a pair of used eyeglasses can make to those less fortunate in the world. And you get it! You get what it is all about! And it is not about you!

There were certainly memories from this project that I will cherish forever.  TWECS projects always allow us to immerse and experience all strata of the society.  And we leave with a sense of gratitude for the blessings in our lives.   But most of all we leave with the smiles, hugs, tears and thank you’s from the poor of Olongapo etched in our hearts forever and they will endure us during our times of adversity.  They are the images that inspire us to return. We hope our first TWECS blog has given you a glimpse of the work we do and the miracles we see from a pair of eyeglasses.  Please help us to continue our work overseas by donating what you can.
Marina Roma-March

Sunday, November 28, 2010


No, it is not a word in the Filipino dictionary.  Rather it is the 20/20 line on the eye chart that I have come to memorize from performing countless visual acuity exams!  We survived our eyecare mission.  5700 patients seen!  I think we are all looking forward to a going home for some well deserved rest and relaxation!  Today was perhaps the hottest day yet!  I tend to forget that we are actually in the month of November and NOT in the middle of summer!  Despite the heat and exhaustion, we managed to get through it as a team and worked hard right up until the last patient was seen and fitted with a pair of eyeglasses.
When I signed up to be part of the TWECS team, I was looking for a rewarding and life changing experience, something that would take me out of my comfort zone and give me a new perspective on the world.  This project has been all this and even more, and I cannot wait to add to this wonderful adventure!

Sylvie Lobreau
TWECS team member

A View from VAs

Helen is a  cute 7 year old little girl who came into our clinic at 8am on our second last day with very red eyes. 
She could barely open them because the light hurt her eyes so badly.  Her father came into the clinic with her and told us she has had sore eyes for 3 days. When we assessed her vision she struggled to see the big E on the eye chart.  Dr. Annu Kaul took her into her "special testing" tent and immediately began treatment for a serious sight threatening eye infection that could potentially scar Helen's corneas for life.  Helen was monitored by Dr. Kaul  every half hour all day during the clinic.  She had 2 types of drops put in her eyes throughout the day to treat her infection and painful eyes.  We advised her Dad to come back to the clinic the next day to assess her vision and progress as she needed treatment for another 2 days.


Kneeling on concrete, one hand on Helen's small frame, the other occluding her healing eyes, listening hard as she was able to see more letters than the previous day, I was again reminded of the incredible impact we were making on so many people's lives.
Without our help, Helen's sight may have worsened to the point of not being able to see to learn, to see her family, or to observe the gorgeous bay and surrounding lush mountains of her home town, Olongapo.

Not only were we impacting and changing lives, but they were perhaps more subtley, changing ours.  Although I try not to take things for granted and worry about trivial things, after observing our patients living conditions and lack of essential services such as eye exams and glasses, it has affirmed how lucky we are and how important it is to be involved in improving the lives of those less fortunate.

I am so grateful to have been a team member of the Olongapo mission, to have met so many wonderful and inspiring people, and to have been able to help improve the sight of so many!

Ashley Epp
TWECS team member

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Coming to an end

Well the week is drawing to a close and what a busy week it's been with an average of 700 patients a day. From the young to the old they come and wait in the heat to have they're eyes checked. For the vast majority it's a happy moment when they leave with they're frames. It would be an understatement to say what a well run project this was. It couldn't have happened without the help of our many local volunteers and translators, who gave freely of they're time. The help came from everyone, the Mayor's office, the police, the escort motorcycles, the drivers, the people who kept us filled up with water and Gatorade, the lunches, the setup and teardown help was nothing short of amazing. Thank you Derrick and Marina for the experience and most of all  to our gracious Filipino host and coordinater the AMAZING Ate Nica (Marina's cousin). Thank You for a wonderful experience that will stay in my memory bank for a long time.
PS Thanks to all for the concern over my cold as a cold in the tropics is no fun. Hope to get better soon. Thanks for the medicine.
Rudy Kompasch

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Nubbie on the Team

Well it's been years since my last major out-of-town volunteer mission, this is my first with TWECS. I’m glad I thought it would be a good time to help out again. Last sojourns were the Olympics, Pan AM Games, and Commonwealth Games, all in North America, as well as my full-time volunteering at the "Soup Kitchen". This time it’s to Olongapo in the Philippines.

The organizational structure that has been implemented by TWECS on this tour puts my past experiences to shame. We are not running out to buy gloves, tape, forgotten items, etc. as in my past missions, and the local Filippino's here have been amazing especially a woman named "Nikka" and her entourage!
I'm the "Nubbie" on the team, I expected to be going for this, going for that, get me a coffee, put up the flag, etc. To my surprise and pleasure I have been assigned to the dispensing crew!!!
So far, every day has been a new a adventure, new locations, new local volunteers, new patients... except now we are at the same location for four days in a row. This gives a sense of familiarity, same set-up, same volunteers, and wahoo, you know where the bathroom is!
Every day, someone on the team has a major success story, but since I dispense "Reader" glasses, I don't get to deal with the -15's, -22's, and so on that require an experienced fitter. Today was my "GLORY" day, a senior woman named Nellie came in wearing glasses what were held together with butcher string and knitting yarn. You could tell that her glasses, in the sad condition that they were,


were still very precious to her.

I got to serve her, when I brought her her new glasses, you could see a tear trickle down her cheek and at the same time a huge smile on her face (don't tell anyone but I gave her two pair of glasses, shusssh and I got a big hug). It warmed my heart and made the unbearable heat a thing of the past, THIS is what it is all about. 

This culture just totally amazes me, the rural barangays have dirt roads, no flush toilets (actually even in the city there are lots of toilets where next to the toilet there is a 20 gallon barrel of water and a laddle), some do not have electricity, the homes are rickety with tin roofs, BUT, every man, woman and child is spotlessly clean - the whites T-shirts are sparkling, everyone treats you with respect - good morning "sir", or nods hello, or just SMILES in return to your smile!

A barangay (Filipino: baranggay, also known by its former Spanish adopted name, the barrio, is the smallest administrative division in the Philippines and is the native Filipino term for a village.

And YES I do have a big smile on my face and grattitude for being here.

Rodger Konkle, TWECS team member     New Westminster, BC

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

We're Nuts and a Little Crazy

A couple of team members have asked me over the last few days why we do this? Why do we put months of effort into setting up eye projects like this in Third World countries year after year.   I've tried to explain but I don't think I did a good job of it. Some of you back home probably already know the answer "we are totally nuts and crazy. No reasonable person would do this." Well that's partially true... what's wrong with being a little crazy!
Marina and I began volunteering overseas 15 years ago.  Every year since then has involved a few weeks of charitable giving in the form of eyeglasses and professional services to some of the planet's poorest inhabitants. Yes it would have been easier to write a cheque to an international charity and let them do the work, but we were young and full of vinegar and wanted to know how it felt to do the labor ourselves; to reach out in kindness to a real person you can touch.  And along the way we have encouraged others to join us and they did so gladly. Here we are 10,000 kms away from home, with 20 other Canadians in the Philippines with the simple goal of changing a few people's lives, theirs and ours. Today I remembered why I do this.
Your hot and sticky all over, you smile at everyone and everyone smiles back and gently thanks you for your kindness and it feels good.  It's now late in the day and your thinking about finishing early and going home to a dribble of a shower and a decent supper and damn didn't Marina just push through registration another 85 people. Well I guess I'm going to have to suck it up and try not think about it and push on, it's why we are here. Do the best you can for those you see. 10 or 20 thank yous later you meet him.  A shy timid boy of 15 who you try to do your best for. You pick out a pair of +5.75s, crap it's not even close,  he's a +10.50 OU and there's nothing else there.  Oh well, you've no choice, you straighten the nose pads to fit his bridge, align the temples and place it gently on his face as you turn to the interpreter to try and explain to her that it's the best we got.  It's then you see him lift his head high and look all around... as tears well up in his eyes and start to fall, the interpreter you depend on is speechless and now starting to cry. And you are thunderstruck as you watch, because you can't help it. HE CAN SEE, not perfectly but a whole lot better than before.  For the first time in his 15 years, the world has dramatically changed forever for him and you had a small part in it. 

As the lump gets stuck in your throat you realize all of today was worth it, you forget your sticky wet back and the sore tired feet.   Then as he shakes your hand and quietly walks away held close by his friend who led him to the clinic, you wish you could thank that donor back in Canada, who ever you are, thanks for taking the time to give your glasses to us, and all the volunteers who got those glasses over here.  I really appreciate all of you. Thank you.

Derrick March
TWECS team member

Monday, November 22, 2010

Back with TWECS again

Well it's been 2 years since my last volunteer mission with Twecs so I thought it would be a good time to help out again. Last time it was Viet Nam, this time Philippines. Same part of the world but different countries and cultures. Both countries very appreciative and grateful for our efforts. After a long 14 hour flight and a safe landing our group of 20  headed out the doors of the Manila airport with our 12,000 pairs of eyewear in tow. Our destination was Olongapo, 3 hours away. By this time my nervousness and fears dissipated. We headed into activity right away, a meeting and reception with city officials and Mayor James Gordon Jr, lunch and introductions made us all feel welcomed. There was even a band on the steps of city hall. Sunday was still full of activity with a trip in the back of a dump truck (literally) to a jungle village to visit the indigenous 
Aeta tribe where we passed out clothing and gifts. We also had a wonderful lunch where we ate with our hands, you learn quickly. Slowly getting over our jet lag we were ready for action on Monday morning where we set up our clinic. 
 We saw over 450 people the first day and the numbers stayed the same or better for the week till today the 22 of Nov when we saw 705 people. Some of our boxes are empty but we have lots of glasses left and I suspect at the end it will be mission accomplished. A couple of highlights for me were a young person who was a + 18 that we managed to fit, and feeling her joy at our efforts to help her see better. We will also be sending her a couple of pairs of glasses from Canada when we get back. Another was a young boy who had just severely damaged his eye with fireworks. He was in danger of losing sight in one eye but with the medications we were able to provide he should make a full recovery. 

Today was also rewarding as a young person who hadn't seen properly in 10 years broke down in tears after he was fitted with glasses that gave him the gift of sight, needless to say tears flowed on the volunteer side as well. Our group of 20 seems to have gelled quite well. Doctors, opticians and lay people all working towards a common goal. I am grateful for being allowed to participate and I so look forward to helping again in the near future.

Rudy Komposch
TWECS Team member

Sunday, November 21, 2010

"Good Morning"

It’s the end of our first week here in Olongapo.  Whew, that went fast!  It’s hard to believe that we’ve seen over 2500 patients over the first five days of clinic.  Although I’ve been able to work in a few areas of the clinic, most of my time has been spent in Registration.  This is the first area where the patients gather to get in line to have their eyes  checked for health and acuity.  Sometimes they’ve been waiting in line for quite a while so I try to say “good morning” with a smile and get the process started on a positive note.  Spending a few minutes with each patient has taught me a lot about the Philippine people.  They are a very respectful and appreciative group.   They treat their seniors with care and don’t mind when an elderly lady is placed at the front of the line so she doesn’t have to wait too much longer in the heat.  Sometimes they are shy and timid, sometimes they want to talk and talk.  Today (day 5), I had a little girl who was being registered by her mother to be seen by the doctor.  This little girl was full of hugs for me at registration and then throughout her time at the clinic, she managed to find me and hug me four more times. 
It felt great since some of the children seem to be a little wary of the blue eyed, blond haired lady.  Maybe it has helped that I’m now giving out lollipops to the children!

We have been very fortunate to have the assistance of some fabulous nurses who have acted as our translators.  They help us to get the information that we need about the patients—sometimes being very funny too.  Donna likes to find out about  the patients’ vision by asking them if they can see how beautiful she is!  Donna, Princess, Elaine, Cornelio and Jan have helped to keep the registration process running smoothly and enabling us to continually increase the number of patients that we allow into the clinic.  They all bring a smile to the table every day!

We hope that the Registration process provides the local villagers who have come to the clinic with a positive first impression.  Unfortunately, it is the first step in what can end up being a very long day for them.  If we can make that first step a little bit easier, then perhaps the rest of the journey won’t seem too bad either.  As for my journey, this trip is showing me the good that comes out of kindnesses offered to others.  

Sue Kennedy
TWECS team member

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Why do we do this?

I just thought I would set the record straight, we get lots of praise for doing these kinds of projects but in reality we do it for ourselves. Today after helping about 100 people with reading glasses there came along a 43 year old women named Christina with her old glasses of -8.75 Diopters and she needed  -14 Diopters. When I was in Vancouver checking  glasses I came across this pair of donated glasses in excellent condition and thought I'm going to bring this pair. I kept them in a special place in case they were needed. Well when I saw her prescription I new someone's life was going to change. I put the glasses on her and I could see on her face that her world just lit up and she started to cry and I started to cry and we hugged and I told her I brought these glasses just for her. I'm even having trouble writing this without reliving the emotion of that moment today.That's why we come on these projects. The one thing you become aware of is how many people it takes, working together, to help in these projects.The first and most important is the people who take the time to donate their old glasses. I would like to ask people to be aware that they have to make the effort by donating clean (not bifocal) glasses in good condition to their local Optometrists, Opticians, Lion's Club or Rotary Clubs' and eventually we will get them. This project has as usual a great team leader and the team members are the greatest bunch of dedicated  people to know and work with. 
Tonight the team is off to Pier One, for some dancing and free special drinks thanks to the Mayor of Olongapo James Gordon Jr.  Tell you about that later.
Robert Dawson 
TWECS team member

Thursday, November 18, 2010


It wasn't long into the project that I learned the value of a single simple smile.
Almost every patient I see will approach me with a solemn look on their face; I can't say I blame them as I'm sure none of them know what to expect from us.
I smile at each patient, without fail (you will soon understand why).  As soon as they see it, I receive a beautiful smile in response.  Every single time!
On Tuesday, one in particular brought me to tears.  It was in the afternoon, so this gentleman had been waiting a long time to be seen.  He was in his late forties, very tall and definitely strong looking but he had a worried look  on his face.
We (my interpreter and I) waved him over and he looked timidly at the ground as he approached the visual acuity chart.  As he got close, I greeted him with a "good afternoon" and when he looked up I made sure to give him one of my bestest, brightest smiles.  His face lit up and he beamed at me as my heart nearly burst from my chest.  A smile is contagious, infectious, comforting, encouraging and does nothing but make you feel good; it doesn't matter if you're giving someone a smile, receiving one or even just smiling to yourself!
A smile is universal currency and it is absolutely priceless!!
So smile!

TWECS team member

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

3rd day, Gordon Heights Olongapo Clinic

It's probably way past time to introduce you to the faces of our TWECS team members.  Here we are in the beginning of the day before the heat and the workload wipe the smiles off our faces. Already we've had two team members off for the afternoon due to exhaustion and dehydration.  Fortunately they have bounced back.

 What you don't see is the 500+ eager patients watching us, many of who arrived hours before we did. For some, the long wait will be well worth it. A lady grinning from ear to ear happy to receive a +4.50 reader.

or a  determined girl of 22 who was turned away yesterday because she didn't have a ticket, only to find her way into today's clinic.  She came in wearing eyeglasses and the best that she could see with them was finger counting in front of her face...even with her glasses she was legally blind.  Her best correction was -18 Diopters.   We had to put another pair of -9 Diopter glasses on top of her own to get close to the final prescription where she was able to see 20/50.  Of course it's not practical for her to walk around with 2 pairs of glasses on so we took all the necessary measurements and information so that we can make up 2 pairs of -18 Diopter eyeglasses for her, once we return to Canada.  I was struck by how indifferent she was with her new vision and I reminded myself that for her the world literally is a complete blur; and how can you participate in a world you cannot see to enjoy?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Barangay Santa Rita

Today was another hot, humid and sticky day.  We were at a new Barangay with a population of 28,000 people.  We will be here for 2 days. The team members were warned to drink and drink to fend off dehydration.
We were much more organized today because everyone had a better understanding of how the stations flow.  And as usual great visual acuity taking was the key to running an effective clinic. Here you see, Ashley, Georgina and Sylvie concentrated on working their patients down the chart.

Of the 510 patients we saw a couple of the memorable ones were, Dr. Annu's -15.00 Dioptre little boy who was able to get glasses.

And another  memorable patient was a 43 year charcoal maker who has been blind for 20 years because of unsuccessful cataract surgeries in both eyes.   Since he lost his sight, he has been staying home to care for his five children while his wife sells vegetables at the wet market to make a living for their family.  We provided him with low vision aides and he was so happy because as he said to us " Now I can read again".
 The 12,000 eye glasses we brought from Canada are being picked through by team members trying to find the perfect match for their patient's prescription.

Robert and Rodger dispense to patients waiting eagerly to get their free glasses.
We look forward to our next clinic day and the wonderful generous people we hope to help.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Clinic day 1

Today was our first clinic day.  The team was up at 6:00am and eager to start. 

We got off on a late start because the power wasn't set up and we couldn't work the autorefractor, so the Optometrists decided to go ahead and do the manual method-Retinoscopy. 

The City Mayor and our host Nica had provided 1.5 local volunteers for each team member and we made up for lost time.  In the end we examined 407 patients in 7 hours.
 We saw many many happy aeta faces.  One aeta man in particular was very happy with glasses.

At the end of our day, we went into the Aeta barangay to give a gift of donated clothes and candy to the children.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

More photos of our day with the Aetas

The Old Dump Truck

A dumptruck ride to the mountain Aetas

Today we had an absolutely incredible experience.  It began with an old dump truck pulling up in front of Olongapo City hall and the driver hauling down a step ladder. Within minutes our whole team of 20 and 2 eight year olds were sitting on red plastic patio chairs in the back bed. It was like being on the top of a double decker bus... but not really.  We were all full of anticipation despite the high humidity and the 30+C sun beating down on us; we were in a state of endless sweat.  As we rode through town we had to be mindful of the live wires crossing the road above our heads as we waved back to all the people whose homes we peeked into from our raised view.  Soon the paved roads of Olongapo came to an end and we were fording rivers and climbing up a mountain track where the thick mango tree branches were whipping past, inches from our face.  Our convoy included a swat team in two trucks. They would often get stuck crossing the rivers in their 4x4s.  As we got higher what opened up before our eyes were rolling mountains filled with lush vegetation, mango trees, palm trees, bamboo trees and flowered shrubery under a beautiful azure blue sky. Now and then you would see a nipa hut in a clearing or women washing clothes in the river or a boy in his underwear with a snorkel and goggles 2 sizes too big, dunking his head underwater to spear fish with a pointed stick.  It was quiet in the dump truck and I suspect we were all in awe of the mountain beauty and images of life surrounding us. We drove on and eventually stopped at a small school full of waiting children that looked so different from the children we had seen in the city.  The children lined up in rows in front of a banner thanking TWECS for coming to their village.  Each child had made a little paper flag saying "welcome Canadian doctors, we love you" and then gave one to each of us.  Our team was treated to Aeta children dancing and a "boodofight" feast.  Two twelve foot bamboo tables were laid out with banana leaves.  Rice and chicken adobo was placed on the leaves.  The team were then invited to eat with them, we stood lined up on either side of the table and ate as the Aetas eat, with our hands, and the food was delicious.  The event ended with the team giving out candies, Canada pins and clothes to every person and child in the village.  On the ride back into town, we passed the children running along the river bank waving with all their goodies from us, and repeatedly shouting "thank you".  I know we will look back on this day and wonder ... did I really experience that?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Finally here

Hi all:  We are finally here.  We arrived this morning about 4:30 in Manila, 14 hours after we left Vancouver. What a surprise Vancouver security was. 12 years we've been taking the hand-held Nikon Autorefractor as a carry-on and every time they freak out at the xray image and want us to turn it on in front of them, to prove that it is medical device. This time was first time I forgot the battery in the checked baggage.  So I thought I'd have a lot of explaining to do. But as luck would have it, the x ray operator didn't give either one of the autorefractors a second glance.  Meanwhile I got 7 glorious hours of blissful sleep last night  on the flight with the help of a little blue pill. Not a bad way to start a project. I gotta go now I'm crashing fast . My typing is off and I can't seem to spell right I will update more tomorrow morning when my head clears.
take care all

Friday, November 12, 2010

Sitting and Waiting

A long flight ahead of us but at least it's direct to Manila arriving 4:30 am just in time for a Filipino breakfast. Gotta go Captain wants us to shut down. see you later

airport check in tonight

Well we made it to the airport. Just in time!
with 48 boxes full of donated clothes, pins and of course  12,000 eyeglasses.  Nineteen team members from across the country packed all their personal things in one carry on.
Check in was a breeze thanks to the gift from Jeff Mann who donated a floor model electronic scale. He did this after experiencing check in last year for our Ethiopia team, when all our boxes had to be reopened with exacto knives and we had to reshuffle 40 boxes to balance the weight for Air Canada and reseal them one by one.  The whole process took 20 people and 2 hours.   After seeing all this, Jeff says to me "you do this every year?"  I said yes.  I guess our bathroom scale that we were using in the warehouse, was 5 pounds underweight.  This time check in was only 15 minutes and NONE of the boxes were over 50 pounds.  Thank you again Jeff! I thought of you a lot!  An electronic scale isn't exactly the gift you would want as a woman, but for our charity it was a DIAMOND RING:)
See you on the other side of the world! Security calling

Thursday, November 11, 2010


Less than 24 hours to go and we are still packing and packing and packing.
Thanks to so many generous people, we have plenty of clothes to give to the Aetas.
For the first time in 8 years I am leaving  for a project with my kids.  This means there will be less tears at the airport.  They are so excited and have been singing the beautiful Philippine National Anthem.
I hope we have enough room to take all the clothes and goodies.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Just days to go before we're off

packing routines are what we are all about today. So far 28 cases are done 12 more to go. It will be tight but we'll make it before take off Thursday night.

Preparations continue 2 days left

Well we are nearly there, 28 shipping boxes have been filled with our equipment and 12,000 pairs of donated eyeglasses. Much more to do before we go.