Tzu Chi and Brigada de Esperanza NY Unite For a Second Round of Vision Mobile Care in Elmhurst

Northeast  |  January 13, 2021
Karina Curillo, a community volunteer, participates in Tzu Chi’s Vision Mobile medical outreach event in New York on November 15th, 2020. Photo/Hector Muniente

Written by Daphne Liu
Translated by Diana Chang  
Edited by Adriana DiBenedetto

On the morning of November 15th, Tzu Chi volunteers woke a bit earlier than usual, leaving behind their cozy blankets for a day of service. They set out at dawn in two Tzu Chi Vision Mobile Clinics. Their destination: Elmhurst, New York.

James Chuang, an Optometrist, conducts an eye exam. Photo/Hector Muniente

Happy to Help

For two consecutive weekends, Ken Tan and Joe Chang — volunteers from Tzu Chi Medical Association (TIMA) in New York — drove Tzu Chi’s Vision Mobile Clinics from Long Island to the specified medical outreach site, arriving by 8 o’clock. They carefully checked the Vision Mobile vans the day before, ensuring that the gas was full so the day’s events could proceed as smoothly as possible. Ken has been participating in TIMA events for many years, and his attention to detail is unmistakable, indeed. On the day of the medical outreach services, after the setup for the Vision Mobile Clinic was complete, he soon had to depart again, for he was also needed for online courses at the Tzu Chi Academy in Long Island each Sunday morning, and the weekends were often his busiest times.

The Vision Mobile vans must arrive by eight o’clock and it takes half an hour of driving. Although I had to get up earlier than usual, I’m still full of energy and very happy to help.

The Vision Mobile vans in New York have been in operation since September of 2019. Photo/Hector Muniente

Tzu Chi’s Vision Mobile Clinics offer eye exams and prescription eyeglasses to individuals from low-income communities at no cost, and the new glasses are usually ready within an hour. The medical outreach event on November 15th marks round two of our service to Hispanic community members in Elmhurst, the previous event taking place on November 7th

Pia Cardenas immigrated to the United States from Ecuador with her family when she was a little girl. Having surpassed many hurdles over the years, she presently maintains a steady job as an accountant, and is always eager to give back to the community. 

During the pandemic, she had witnessed Brigada de Esperanza NY and Tzu Chi distributing food in the community and wanted to do her part. Therefore, when Brigada de Esperanza NY began recruiting volunteers for the position of ophthalmology assistant, she took the initiative to sign up for training. 

Pia told us that it’s long been an important mission of hers to reach out to immigrants through different channels when volunteering, and let others know that there are free resources available. She’s now participated in two medical outreach events and three training sessions. And although she felt the first medical outreach had been a little challenging, she was committed, and continued her training. After further practice, she became more and more familiar with the tasks as a volunteer. 

I really like the feeling of helping others. As a volunteer, I don’t do this for myself; I can really help others.

Pia serves as a volunteer at a medical outreach event and is responsible for eye exams. Photo/Jupiter Chiou

Karina Curillo is Mexican-American; she immigrated to the United States several years ago, and worked diligently to become a certified nursing assistant (CNA). Karina has a great passion for serving the community as well, and began volunteering in her free time. For Karina, the ophthalmic assistant training courses provided by Tzu Chi had been a new field to explore, and she’s glad to be a part of it. At the medical outreach event, her bright voice, lively attire, and floral earrings exuded a welcoming personality that helped patients feel at ease. Karina said she cherishes these medical outreach events and the training courses, and she wanted to dress up to meet everyone.

When helping others, I felt full of energy. Tzu Chi gives us the opportunities to learn new skills and is willing to collaborate with Hispanic groups; it’s a great organization.

More than 20 Spanish-speaking volunteers assist in Tzu Chi’s Vision Mobile medical outreach event. Photo/Hector Muniente

Overcoming Barriers With the Tzu Chi Spirit

Perhaps the busiest volunteer at the event was Arelys Santana, who provided her assistance as an interpreter and also aided volunteers with operating the equipment. Four years ago, Arelys, a dentist who joined TIMA, often participated in international disaster relief in Latin America. At the training event, she helped with translation and shared the Tzu Chi spirit with new volunteers.

Although we are from different ethnic backgrounds, we work together to help the community, and at the same time share the meaning of the bamboo bank era. The residents will understand Master Cheng Yen’s dedication and how Tzu Chi helps others.

Arelys Santana is a dentist and a community volunteer with Tzu Chi’s Northeast Regional Branch. She also offers her time as an interpreter for the optometrists at Vision Mobile events. Photo/Jupiter Chiou

At these two recent medical outreach events, the eye examinations were undertaken by more than 20 community volunteers from Brigada de Esperanza NY, with Tzu Chi volunteers assisting the community volunteers.

Tzu Chi volunteers are responsible for making and fitting the glasses at the event. Photo/Hector Muniente
The equipment on the Vision Mobile van can produce a new pair of glasses within the hour. Photo/Hector Muniente

Cathy Chen was in charge of the training courses, and was deeply moved by the level of collaboration among the 25 community volunteers.

We need community volunteers. In addition to those who speak English, the majority of the residents are from the Hispanic community. Our collaboration is a significant accomplishment for Tzu Chi.

Cathy Chen, a Tzu Chi volunteer, assists in setting up ophthalmic equipment, and helps resolve questions from volunteers. Photo/Hector Muniente

The two medical outreach events served nearly 50 individuals. Tzu Chi’s Northeast Region hopes that in the future, through an ophthalmic assistant or dental assistant volunteer training course, we can provide resources to even more individuals, and that the care patients felt during these two events can reach more people.

With the pandemic ongoing in New York, volunteers continue to uphold strict preventive measures, and maintain a safe distance at the event. Photo/Hector Muniente

With joy, one can overcome challenges; with gratitude, one can accumulate strength.

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