This weekend, we visited San Martín Sacatepéquez to deliver reading glasses for the women in the cooperative who have vision problems and have difficulty seeing their weaving. It was a last-minute plan added on to a volunteer trip to do some interviews. I didn’t expect it to be such an emotional
experience… the expressions on the women’s faces when they first tried on the glasses almost brought tears to my eyes. The first thing they did was to look at each others’ huipiles, and then their own. Their happiness overflowed into spontaneous laughter. For some reason, the tags on the glasses seemed like the funniest sight we ever saw. A woman named Rebeca made us all giggle by putting the tag over her eye like an eyepatch and trying the glasses on upside down. What struck me most about the visit was how simple it was to get the project done this way, to the point that it made me guilty that I hadn’t done it before. If we can potentially change a woman’s entire “way of seeing” with a $1 pair of glasses, why aren’t we doing this all the time?
A site called The Tipping Bucketgave us a platform to solicit individual donations. Then I bought a case of 144 glasses of different prescriptions and brought it with me in my suitcase. We can’t afford eye exams, so we’re just having the women try them on to see which ones work best, and so far it
seems to be working well enough. As volunteer tourists, it seems to me that these are the kind of moments that we live for: making a direct connection with the people we’re helping and experiencing an overflow of their gratitude. I have to admit that part of me wanted to personally accompany all of the other deliveries of reading glasses and bask in the rewarding glow of the women’s thanks. Sometimes it seems like this desire, not only to be helpful but to feel helpful, is the driving force behind voluntourism. These are the moments that reinforce our desire to continue helping and make us feel a part of something larger than ourselves.