Drs. Tyrie Jenkins and Ming Chen

Sarah Pacheco
Wednesday - June 17, 2009
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For some, a chance to spend a month summering in Samoa would seem the ideal tropical getaway. But for a group of local volunteers, it won’t be all surf, sand and sun.

Drs. Ming Chen and Tyrie Jenkins are among a band of do-gooders headed for the island of Savaii, more commonly known as Western Samoa, to provide free eye screenings and eyewear for 40,000 residents. Both eye doctors first heard about the mission from UH John A. Burns School of Medicine student Shawn Barnes, who served as a Peace Corps volunteer on the rural island with fellow medical student Chris Small between 2001 and 2003. The more Barnes spoke of the goodwill they would be bringing, the more Chen and Jenkins became intrigued.

“I believe it is a God-given mission for eye physicians and surgeons to restore people’s vision wherever, whatever and whoever they are,” professes Chen, who has been involved in eye missions both local and abroad since 1993 as a member of Aloha Medical Mission.

“The purpose of this mission is to start to identify what the needs are on Savaii, with hopefully some follow-up in the future along the lines of treatment,” Jenkins explains. “There are so many preventable and treatable causes of decreased vision in the world. The issue is access to eye care, which may be because of lack of available eye care or lack of insurance or finances.”

Both of the good doctors have worked on missions in developing world countries - including recent trips to China and the Marshall Islands - as part of the Hawaii Ophthalmological Society, an association of fully trained medical doctors who provide eye care at no expense to patients 65 years of age or older who do not have a private ophthalmologist and who are legal U.S. residents. Visit http://www.hawaiieyemds.org for more details.

“We have been doing free glaucoma screenings locally for more than 20-some years; this is the first time the society has this opportunity to be involved abroad with our neighbor islanders of Samoa,” says Chen, president of the society, which has played a big role in getting the Samoan mission off the ground. HOS members have donated $8,500 necessary for the trip and more than 1,500 reading glasses and 2,000 sunglasses for distribution to Savaii’s villagers. They also have devoted their time.

“Through the generosity of Drs. Chen and Jenkins and the Hawaii Ophthalmological Society, we will be spending the entire month of July on Savaii screenings for glaucoma, retina pathology and cataracts,” Barnes says. “There is an old Samoan proverb, O le ala i le pule o le tautua, or ‘The way to responsibility is through service.‘We hope to earn our responsibility as physicians through service.”

The eyesight mission to Samoa is endorsed by the Samoa Health Research Committee and the Samoan government, with logistical support from Tihati Thompson, Hawaiian Airlines and retired Judge James Burns, president of the Friends of JABSOM.


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