Press-Republican

April 6, 2013

Optometrist's eyes opened by Nicaraguan poverty

By KAITLYN AFFUSO
Press-Republican

---- — PLATTSBURGH — Just one of some 1,200 students wore eyeglasses when they welcomed North Country Mission of Hope to Nicaragua for a recent mission there.

“Then, I looked at our group,” Dr. George Mitsoglou said. “Three-quarters of them were wearing glasses.”

Granted the American contingent was far smaller, but the contrast was striking all the same.

Mitsoglou, owner of Mati Eyecare in downtown Plattsburgh, rectified some of that inequity in proper eye care on the February trip, providing Mission of Hope’s first clinic devoted to that need.

For four days, he gave eye exams to the impoverished people who live around the mission’s Nicaraguan base in Chiquilistagua.

Many he saw needed medical attention for such ailments as glaucoma and cataracts.

But others were given the miracle of improved sight, as they were fitted with glasses for the first time in their lives.

“There were a lot of smiles,” the doctor said. “It gave me a lot of satisfaction to be helping people who were in such great need.”

‘VERY APPRECIATIVE’

Having grown up in a post-war era has made Mitsoglou more appreciative of being financially stable. He said he wanted to give back and searched for a mission group for years that not only assisted the needy in foreign countries, but also locally. 

Mission of Hope, a Plattsburgh-based humanitarian-aid organization, was exactly what he was looking for, he said.

The group has a proven track record of giving back to Nicaragua, the second poorest country in the Western hemisphere, he said.

Fliers posted in the local community promoted the clinics, and they received such a big response that they had to turn some people away because of the lack of time.

“It was quite discouraging to do that,” Mitsoglou said. “But hopefully, it’ll give me an opportunity to return and help some more.”

When people live off less than a dollar a day, he said, they tend not to have ever seen an eye doctor, and they were very appreciative of the service.

“The people we served were in very, very impoverished conditions,” Mitsoglou said.

GIVING AT HOME

He doesn’t want to limit himself to helping out in just foreign countries, though.

Home again, he planned to start off by giving discounts on new eyeglass frames in exchange for accepting their old eyewear.

And, he said, he may play off of what the Toms shoe company does, donating a pair of shoes for someone in need every time a pair is bought.

Mitsoglou said he’ll to do the same with eyeglasses at Mati Eyecare.

And he would love to inspire more people to give back to their own community, as well.

“It’ll make me feel better and will probably make other people feel better, too,” he said.

Along with extending his desire to give back at home, he said, his trip provided him a deeper insight.

‘DEEPLY TOUCHED’

Mitsoglou had traveled to third-world countries before, including the Dominican Republic, where he was an observer rather than participant.

But in Nicaragua, he said, “because it was so intimate and personal ... I was more sensitized to (people’s) needs.

“It touched me deeply that people were so appreciative of a used pair of glasses that somebody donated.”

Mitsoglou worked side by side with another Mission of Hope volunteer, Bill Calmbacher of Schroon Lake, who would fit patients with glasses while he gave eye exams.

They had limited hours that they could work, but he said that he was able to treat a great number of patients.

“In many cases, they were able to see things they haven’t before,” Dr. Mitsoglou said. “It put a smile on their faces, and that’s all I could ask for.”

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SEE THE VIDEO

Check out video from the Mission of Hope with this article.