Optometrist Matthew Blondin of Goshen examines a patient during the Volunteer Optometric Services for Humanity-Connecticut clinic eye-care clinic in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua, in January. Contributed photos

Led by optometrist Matthew Blondin of Goshen and his wife, Audrey, Volunteer Optometric Services for Humanity-Connecticut held its 17th annual eye care clinic in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua in January.

It was the 20th year of service in San Juan del Sur and the seventeenth under the auspices of VOSH-Connecticut. Three previous missions were held under the auspices of VOSH-NECO. The team consisted of 35 mission members.

As in years past, approximately 70 local volunteers assisted with the mission. Dr. Rosa Elena Bello supervised the mission and the local volunteers as she has done for the past 20 years, and many local volunteers were now able to assist throughout the mission as translators. The mission was challenging as volunteers saw almost as many patients in 2020 as they had seen during the last mission in 2018.

In addition to the 3,300 pairs of glasses purchased by VOSH-Connecticut from the Virginia Lions Club, 4,000 pairs of sunglasses and 1,000 pairs of readers were purchased by VOSH-CT. All were distributed to needy San Jian del Sur residents.

Roger Mahieu Jr., owner of True Value Hardware of Litchfield, once again donated 100 nail bags which were distributed to the volunteers and were useful throughout the mission. Volunteers experienced intermittent power outages throughout the week due to extremely high winds and blowing dirt and dust, which brought challenges to the clinic with limited lighting while trying to see patients after dark.

The clinic was held at the Centro Escolar Enmanuel Mongaloy Rubio. It included six examination rooms, a dispensary and a lunchroom. Over the four-day clinic period, volunteers saw 4,013 patients, averaging about 1,000 patients per day. The total number of patients seen over the last 17 years exceeds 52,000.

Escalating mission costs continue to present a challenge. Total mission expenditures now  exceed $15,000 per mission and are funded primarily through volunteer donations and mission fees.

San Juan del Sur and the surrounding areas have experienced economic difficulty and challenges over the past two years, and the need for eye care was even greater after not being able to hold the clinic in 2019.

Despite the State Department Level 3 security alert, volunteers provided services without incident, although they did witness at least two large crowd demonstrations.

Matthew and Audrey Blondin with residents of San Juan del Sur.

The VOSH-Connecticut delegation in San Juan del Sur.