Archive for May, 2014

Making Good Even Better

Last week we had the honor of hosting our second clinic with OneSight, an international nonprofit that provides eyewear and primary vision care to millions of people in need across the globe. To list all the ways OneSight’s presence has inspired us would take much more space than we have here, but this year one particular way stood out: after 25 years, OneSight is still finding ways to do what they do well, even better.

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To give you some context, in the past OneSight clinics would operate using a large inventory of pre-made glasses with a variety of prescription combinations. When a patient came though the clinic, the doctors would measure his or her prescription and then search through a database, looking for a pair of glasses that matched the prescription as closely as possible. The glasses patients received were certainly better than any they’d had before (if they’d ever owned any at all), but at times were not an exact match for their personal prescription.

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But this year was different. This year, we had the honor of hosting the first-ever fully manufacturing clinic, including the launch of a special line of frames specifically for OneSight clinics. Instead of choosing from a limited selection of pre-made glasses, each patient received a pair of glasses made to order, cut and assembled on sight, with lenses exactly matched to their personal prescription. It was truly top-of-the-line care, born out of OneSight’s vision to treat each patient who comes through their clinic doors with the absolute highest quality of compassion, professionalism, and personal attention.

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But, make no mistake, it wasn’t easy. It took more staff, more time, and a great deal more precision to explain the process to every patient, move them through the extra steps, and ensure that each received the correct diagnosis and glasses at the end of the day. Before all that, it took a big risk on OneSight’s part to invest time and resources in developing a new process, and it took some seriously long days as we all worked out the kinks once they got here.

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No question, this year’s clinic was not easier than last year’s. But, let’s be clear: we couldn’t possibly be more OK with that. You see, over the years we’ve learned that, more often than not, easy is the enemy of excellent. What started, as OneSight CEO Jason said, as a “What if?” turned into the better question “Why not?”, but only because of OneSight’s willingness to sacrifice the easy, well-trodden path for the riskier, harder, but ultimately better excellent one.

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And the fruit that commitment to excellence bore last week – sending off nearly 2,800 patients with exactly the right glasses to give them the best possible vision – was  truly an extraordinary sight.

 

To Be A Mom

As our moto pulls up to Maria Matute’s house in the community of Los Rotarios, her daughter Tatiana, 3, watches us from the door of their cinder-block home, cautious but curious. Once we remove our helmets, however, it only takes her a moment to return our smiles with one of her own and run up to Gloria, our Director of Project Impact, and myself, bestowing us each a kiss.

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Her mother follows her out the door, and then slips back inside to bring out three rocking chairs. She sets them in a circle in the front, makeshift chicken coup to one side, stack of bricks and firewood to the other. As we sit down and I click on my recorder, she motions to the bricks and tells me they are for an addition she is adding onto her house where a kitchen will eventually go.

 

I already know a little about Maria, from a conversation Gloria and I had the day before. Along with seven other women from Los Rotarios, she works as an artisan for our Bead Amigas program, spending her days rolling paper beads and crafting them into beautiful handmade jewelry – bracelets, earrings, rosaries, crosses. Once made, the jewelry is sold both locally and in the United States, a program designed to give women an opportunity to tap into both their creative and economic potential.

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What I don’t know, and have come to find out, is what her life was like before she began working as a Bead Amiga, and how it’s changed since. I ask her to start by describing her life before, and she answers with a single word: duro. Hard.

 

She and her husband both worked as day laborers for large local farms, she tells me, so work was seasonal, unpredictable. Sometimes they could both go weeks without finding a job. In fact, at the time her husband is without work.

 

When she did find work, she would often walk over three miles on foot from her parents house – where she and her family were living – to work 12-hour shifts cleaning peanuts in the glaring Nicaraguan sun. “I was working all the time and didn’t have time to give to my children,” she recalls, referring to the other of her two children, Denis, a son. “I was always searching for someone to take care of them while I worked.”

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Then, shortly after her daughter was born, her son fell ill. “I did not want to return back to the work I was doing before, but I was concerned about how we would take care of ourselves.” She paused in her rocker for a moment, remembering; when she continued her voice caught in her throat. “During this part of my life I suffered a lot. I never had confidence that we would be OK.”

 

However, it was around the same time that Maria first heard about Bead Amigas. “Alison [a co-founder of Bead Amigas] came to the school here, and there were three women who she taught that first time she came. When she returned later and said she needed more women, a friend of mine invited me to go.”

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Since then, nothing has been the same. After years of hard work, Maria and her family have been able to own their own home for the first time and, with the earnings she makes selling Bead Amigas products year-round, they’ve been able to furnish it. “When I moved into this house I had a few plastic chairs and a washing board,” she says, patting the arm of her rocking chair proudly. “Now I have furnishings for my house: a mirror, TV, wardrobe, these chairs.”

 

Maria stands and motions me to follow her around the back of the house, where she shows me an enormous sow – also purchased with her Bead Amigas earnings – and several piglets. As we watch the pigs rooting around their pen, she explains that she has been able to sell the piglets – a highly in-demand commodity in Nicaragua – for a significant profit. They’ve used the extra income to start a savings account, not only for the financial stability but also as an investment in the future they hope to build.

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As we retake our seats the flow of talk pauses while Tatiana climbs up into Maria’s lap, drawing our attention away from the conversation. Maria smiles and strokes her hair, and we all take a moment to indulge Tatiana with smiles and silly faces to make her laugh. When she settles down into her mother’s lap, we resume.

 

“I enjoy my work now,” Maria continues, but nothing is more important to her – no change has been more dramatic – than the opportunity she now has to be the mother she has always wanted to be. Working from home, she has the time and energy to dedicate herself to her children and care for them herself – “It is a blessing from God.”

 

“I never dreamed this would be possible; my mind was closed to the idea. I never even thought about it because it was hard enough just fighting for my daily bread. Now, everything has changed.” And, as I watch her cradling Tatiana, I am moved by the deep satisfaction I see in her eyes as she wraps her arms around the life she never thought she’d have.

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Bead Amigas empowers Nicaraguan mothers to create a better future for their families through art, education, and entrepreneurship. To learn more or to view our beautiful selection of Bead Amigas products, visit www.etsy.com/shop/beadamigas.


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