Sometimes the smallest choices in life can have the most meaningful impact on yourself and others. A simple “yes” response to a volunteer opportunity to learn how to make reading glasses for the Auburn study abroad program in Fiji and New Zealand that I participated in this past summer has proven to provide more blessings than I could have possibly imagined.
Back in January, the program director for my study abroad trip, Dr. Kate Thornton, sent out an email seeking volunteers to be trained to learn how to make reading glasses from Evangelism Explosion International, a missions-based organization near Asheville, North Carolina. After learning how to make the glasses, we would then purchase a kit that allows you to make several hundred glasses and bring it with us to the village we would be staying with in Vorovoro, Fiji, and the neighboring community, Mali Island. We would then teach some of the village leaders how to make the glasses so that they could set up their own microenterprise using the reading glasses kit.
My initial thought was that a free trip to Asheville sounded like a pretty sweet deal and making reading glasses would probably be cool too and that was the extent of my thought process. I did not consider the fact that I had never really worked with tools or my hands, so perhaps I was not the most qualified candidate. I never considered the profound impact, I would later learn, that bringing the skills and tools to make reading glasses to Vorovoro and Mali Island would have in their community.
During my training in Asheville, I did an average job learning how to make the reading glasses. I knew that I could make them again, but I did not feel very comfortable with my skills. I practiced a few more times before leaving for Fiji, and then I did not work with the glasses again until a month later when I arrived in Vorovoro.
My first day revisiting the reading glasses kit went horribly. I kept making mistake after mistake and became extremely frustrated. After many messed up pairs of glasses, I finally made a correct pair and called it a day. Later that night, Dr. Thornton informed me that I would be showing the chief of Vorovoro and Mali Island, Tui Mali, how to make the glasses the next morning, while also making a pair for him, and he would then decide who would be best for me to train. I was so nervous and felt extremely unprepared, but it was too late that evening to do anything about it.
The next morning while I was waiting for Tui Mali to arrive, I said a quick prayer asking God for help, and His help He indeed did send. The process of making the glasses went perfectly, and I was able to effectively communicate with Tui Mali. He was so thankful for the glasses and very excited about the potential that this skill and kit could bring to his community. He informed me that reading glasses are extremely hard to come by and that not being able to read really diminishes someone’s quality of life. For example, one of the Fijians informed me that he had a hard time reading his Bible, and since religion is a very important part of their culture, it is easy to see how not having access to reading glasses can really negatively impact someone’s life.
Over the next few days, many of the Fijians working on Vorovoro approached me asking me for reading glasses. Even some of the government leaders in Mali Island came to Vorovoro to see what the reading glasses news was all about and wanted a pair for themselves. Although my hands became quite tired making over thirty reading glasses in just two days, my soul could not have been more awake.
After realizing the impact I was leaving in their community, I was so thankful to have been allowed the opportunity to play a part in improving the lives of the people of Vorovoro and Mali Island through the reading glasses.
Seeing the need for such a simple tool in their community was both humbling and eye opening. Simply giving a few hours out of one of my days to learn this skill ended up making a lifetime’s worth of difference for the community of Vorovoro and Mali Island, and I cannot quite put into words how special that feeling was. I realized that it does not always take much to make a difference in this world, but sometimes just a willing heart and a determined mind when the opportunity presents itself.
For more information about the Fiji/New Zealand Study Abroad program, come by the Office of Global Education located in Spidle Hall room 232, or e-mail Kate Thornton.