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Holy Rosary joins Lions eyeglass mission

Area Lions clubs have taken annual trips to Mexico to help fit needy people with eyeglasses. This year they had company.

Students from Holy Rosary School in Detroit Lakes and medical students from the University of Minnesota and Ohio State College of Optometry accompanied organizer Armand Radke the second week in Mazatlan. Lions representing 11 different Lions clubs participated in the first week of activities.

"The last couple district meetings, more and more (Lions members) are getting interested," Radke said. Represented were Detroit Lakes, Cormorant, Wolf Lake, Perham, Park Rapids, Ottertail, Ada, Fargo and Moorhead -- 32 people in all.

The second week of the trip was the learning and teaching week, though. Radke spent time teaching the med students how to examine patients. The Holy Rosary students spent one day with the group, learning about eyeglasses as well.

Holy Rosary

Holy Rosary students have gone to Mexico on mission trips to work in orphanages and help with some physical labor. This year, for the first time, they met up with Radke and helped fit people with eyeglasses.

"That was the coolest day," Brianna Posch said.

"The facial expressions -- they gave you the most thanks for what we did," Rob Richards said of the people they encountered.

The students helped with eye charts and finding the right pair of glasses for people. But it wasn't just the students impressed with the people of Mexico. It was also the leaders at Holy Rosary that were impressed with the young men and women that accompanied them.

"The kids were wonderful. They were eager to learn. They were proud," Patti Spry said. Spry has been to Mexico seven times with youth. "They had an opportunity to learn and grow."

She said the students that helped the Mexican people with eyeglasses spent so much time trying to find the perfect pair for each patient, without losing any patience.

"It was a journey of love, when you see young people out of their environment. (They showed) that need to want to help," Spry added.

This was the first trip with the youth to Mexico for Sister Patrice Eblen. She was equally impressed with the students.

"I admired the way they would try to talk Spanish," she said. "They (the students) were very patient and accommodating with them."

While they didn't always communicate through language, she said they could figure out through body language and gestures what needed to be said.

"Everybody had a smile on their face," Spry said when she looked at the kids helping at the eye clinic.

Radke said it was "refreshing" to have the students along and working with the people. They kept the clinic hopping and ready to go. The two groups are already looking at dates to travel together again next year.

"There was real teamwork and cooperation from those kids," Eblen said.

The next couple days of the Holy Rosary students' mission trip were spent at orphanages -- cleaning yards, putting up a soccer net and playing with the children.

This was the first time these students had gone to Mexico, and a first for so much interaction with the people of Mazatlan.

"This was probably the best trip Holy Rosary has ever done," Jessica Kempenich said.

In the past, students have traveled on mission trips, helping to build structures, painting, etc.

"Just to see their reactions -- they weren't used to people being so nice," Kempenich said.

The young men and women of Holy Rosary got to see how the people in the villages lived, the poverty level of those visiting the clinics.

While they were there, truckers were on strike, so the transportation was on country back roads that were maybe comparable to minimum maintenance roads here.

"It was a real eye opener, if people think it's bad here," Richards said.

"It's actually real. It's not just on the news," Posch agreed of seeing the conditions firsthand.

Spry understands where her students are coming from. "It doesn't touch you until you're there," she said. "These kids came down for the right reasons. I couldn't have asked for a better experience with a group of kids."

For her personally, Spry said that the area was different, but the conditions were the same as her past visits. But leaving, knowing they made a lasting difference, was different.

"We gave them a gift of sight -- that's more concrete," she said. "We were able to touch every generation also."

Usually the team goes to orphanages, whereas this time with the eye clinics they got to work with everyone from children to adults to the elderly.

Eblen said the eye clinic portion of the trip also left the biggest impression on her.

"We felt productive and fruitful at the end of the day," she said, adding that they were tired, but a good tired. "It created such good memories."

"If anyone gets the opportunity to do a mission trip, do it," Richards said. "I'd like to go back -- not there necessarily, but anywhere to help."

Med students

Radke's son Phillip and his friend Chica Nwul came from the University of Minnesota Medical School, and Detroit Lakes native Krystle Long came from the Ohio State College of Optometry, for a week in Mazatlan to help, and to learn for themselves.

Radke said he taught the students to determine the health of an eye. The med students got their scopes and were to practice on Radke and his wife and daughter. He said the stress level was up, to say the least, trying to get the students to see what they needed to see.

"They were anxious and unsure of their ability," he said.

Thankfully, that turned around.

He told the med students to take a patient's case history and repeat it back to him. Radke added that the Mexican people thought it was great having not one but multiple doctors checking them over.

The process was slow at first, but after about 50 patients, the young students were becoming more confident and starting to see what they needed to see. They were even able to make partial diagnoses.

They also learned about the frustration of not being able to help. Radke explained that a lady came to the clinic and said she was having difficulty seeing. It turn out she was nearly blind and nothing could be done for her at this point.

Radke said the students all told him they plan to return to the clinic next year, and hopefully bring some other med student friends.

It wasn't just the med students Radke coached, either. During the first week, among the group of 30 Lions, he had two doctors.

"I converted them to eye doctors real quick," he said with a laugh.

Radke admitted the second week of the trip was a bit more stressful and apprehensive, trying to teach the med students and making an impression on the Holy Rosary students, but once the system started to flow, "it was phenomenal."

In the two weeks Radke was in Mexico, the clinic saw 1,300 Mexican people, of whom 1,287 needed glasses.

Fund-raising for future trips has already begun. The Lions are selling 12-inch pots of geraniums from Bergen's greenhouse for $25 each. They will be selling them for the next two weeks, and anyone interested can contact Radke at 846-1949.