Identifying a deep need in Tanzania as a student, Andy Mackner ’14 knew he needed to go back.
As a biology major, Mackner was on a Concordia May Seminar studying the ecology of East Africa when he first visited the MaaSAE Girls Lutheran Secondary School, a boarding school located in the outskirts of Monduli, Tanzania.
Mackner was impressed with the girls’ ardor for learning as he witnessed them rise as early as 5 a.m. each day in their eagerness. But he also noticed a deep need for vision care services for the girls, a lacking which resulted in unnecessary obstacles to learning.
As a second-year optometry student at the Pacific University College of Optometry, Mackner set about to return to Tanzania with Amigos Eye Care and Student Volunteer Optometrists Serving Humanity (VOSH). AMIGOS VOSH provides comprehensive eye exams and sunglasses to underserved people around the world in countries including Guatemala, Honduras, Cambodia and Tanzania. The trips typically consist of 10-15 optometry students, volunteers and doctors traveling to bring their clinical expertise and hundreds of prescription glasses to prescribe to patients.
In December 2015, Mackner traveled to Tanzania with five classmates (including fellow 2014 Concordia graduates Sam Lohse and Leland Johnson), a licensed optometrist and volunteers with a goal of providing eye exams and donated prescription eyeglasses to patients at the MaaSAE Girls School, the village of Monduli and the town of Karatu.
In just four days, the group saw 567 patients, gave out almost that many glasses and found over 100 people in need of cataract surgery.
“The access that we have to vision care is a privilege. Most of the problems we’re seeing in Tanzania are completely preventable,” Mackner says. “Preventive care – even as simple as sun protection – is so important. It definitely makes you appreciate what we have in the United States.”
Mackner’s long-term goal is sustainability – not just swooping in sporadically, but working to assist local optometrists in providing more comprehensive care for their community. Mackner says they are already in the process of planning for next year’s trip.
Laura Caroon '06 is a content strategist at Concordia College.