Tzu Chi Vision Mobile Clinic Serves Asylum Seekers in Need in New York

Northeast  |  July 8, 2023
On June 21, 2023, Tzu Chi USA Northeast Region’s Vision Mobile Clinic vans park near the Steward Hotel in Midtown Manhattan, New York, to offer free eye care services to asylum seekers. Photo/Pinhau Chiou

Written by: Pinhau Chiou
Translated by: H.B. Qin
Edited by: Patrick McShane

On June 21, 2023, Tzu Chi USA Northeast Region’s Vision Mobile Clinic vans were stationed near the Steward Hotel in Midtown Manhattan for the first time to provide eye care services to asylum seekers from all over the world, helping them feel at home and welcome in the United States.

Since May, the daily influx of visa-less asylum seekers into the U.S. has reached an all-time high. The arrival of immigrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border into the State of Texas has caused a state of emergency in border cities such as El Paso and Brownsville due to the intense humanitarian need. Texas requested help from other states, and New York answered the call, becoming one of the main receiving areas.

According to the City of New York, there are currently 80,000 asylum seekers living in the city. The municipal government is feeling the pressure of having to provide jobs, food, and medical care to such a large group of people in need, and called on all New York charitable and non-profit organizations to come together to help these refugees. As a result, the Tzu Chi USA Northeast Region started a medical assistance program to provide eye care.

Volunteers arrive early in the morning to set up for the free clinic. Photo/Pinhau Chiou
Volunteers make preparations before the eye care services begin. Photos/Pinhau Chiou

The Tzu Chi USA Northeast Region received its first Vision Mobile Clinic in 2019 and launched its services. Over the past four years, the clinic team has provided free vision care services in various New York communities and schools, accumulating abundant experience and building a sophisticated outreach system. After receiving the request to help asylum seekers, the Tzu Chi Northeast Region immediately began discussions with the municipal government about ways to cooperate to benefit those in need.

The Stewart Hotel, located in Midtown Manhattan, houses about 500 families of political asylum seekers who are in urgent need of medical care. Early on June 21, the Tzu Chi mobile clinic team came to the hotel to set up and then provided eye care services for these families. The volunteers checked their eyesight to see if they required prescription glasses. For those who needed correction, volunteers fit the lenses on-site and presented the eyeglasses to the patients soon after.

From optometry exams to eyesight tests to the completion of a pair of eyeglasses, the volunteers worked together attentively and efficiently, which left a deep impression on everyone.

Spanish-speaking volunteers help out as interpreters to ensure the smooth running of the clinic. Photo/Pinhau Chiou
The site bustles with activity during the free eye care clinic. Photo/Pinhau Chiou

Knowing that most of these political asylum seekers are from Central and South America and speak only Spanish, Tzu Chi invited Spanish-speaking volunteers to help interpret. This support allowed the patients to communicate comfortably and made everyone feel welcome at the clinic. 

We have a lot of Spanish-speaking volunteers to help with translation, plus there are a lot of Hispanic staff here (at the Steward Hotel), so the whole workflow is very smooth today.

No one wants to leave the land where they have been rooted for generations unless they are forced to. In the face of displacement, Tzu Chi is willing to continue to work with the government so that those who have lost their roots can see at least a ray of hope in the future.

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