My name is Megan Heiser. I am a student in the Opticianry program at J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College in Richmond, Va, and I was also a volunteer in Jamaica this past October.

Jamaica was an incredible experience for me personally. I felt apprehensive at first, being a student, that my experience in the field was too little to be of any help. I quickly learned that this wasn’t the case. So many people were needed to make this project run smoothly, from organizers, to the doctors, to the people of the community who cooked for us. Every bit of help was needed and appreciated. I found that many of the volunteers had skills that were utilized in many different aspects of the project. We all just jumped in where we felt we were the most useful. I worked with the nurses some days, and in the dispensing of glasses on other days.

I also quickly learned that everyone has an idea of how things should run, but that sometimes, that idea isn’t always feasible. You had to adapt to any situation and challenge quickly, which required patience and tolerance. It was hot- and we were running around a lot, and the community center was full of people all of the time. So tempers got short sometimes and patience wore thin. But pulling together, helping each other out, and keeping the big goal in mind- that we were there for these patients helped all of us get over the flare-ups. The heat was my biggest challenge. Trying to stay cool and focused without my precious air conditioning was so hard.

The greatest joy I can remember was knowing that, after that week was over, we improved vision and educated over 1500 Jamaicans. We truly made a tangible difference for those folks, and the gratefulness they showed was extremely humbling. So many things that we take for granted here in the U.S. are such luxuries around the world. It was a privilege to have given a week of my time to such a deserving and grateful people.

My fellow classmates and I are hoping to return year after year for this mission trip. We have also had the opportunity to share our experiences with fellow students and opticians at other conferences around the country. Hopefully, the more we share, the more people will be willing to make this mission a priority. Thanks so much to Great Shape, all of the volunteers, Sandals , and the people of Jamaica for making this such a wonderfully rewarding first mission trip. I look forward to coming back again and again.

-Megan Heiser