Written by Maple Gu
Translated by H.B. Qin
Edited by Patrick McShane
In January, California was hit by a winter storm that caused severe flooding. The Planada area of Merced County, California was among the hardest hit areas. Tzu Chi USA Northwest Region volunteers responded to the flooding and went to the affected communities in February for three consecutive disaster relief distribution activities.
Olivia Gómez, liaison for the Planada School District, said, “We experienced a major flood in January. We met the [Buddhist] Tzu Chi Foundation at the fairground. They came out, gave gift cards to those that were displacedand lost a lot of their goods.”
During the emergency relief distribution for the Planada flood, Tzu Chi volunteers found that local residents were in great need of medical care, so they expanded their services from just charitable distribution to medical care. On April 28th, the volunteers conducted a special clinic activity called ‘Highway 99,’ to provide the residents with free eye care services.
Tzu Chi’s Fresno Mobile Clinic Team works in central California and has been conducting free clinics along Highway 99, a road that connects California’s capital Sacramento with Silicon Valley. According to Olivia Chung, manager of the Team, “We started outreach a few years ago
and we do it along Highway 99 from Fresno, Modesto, Stockton all the way to Sacramento.”
The need for eye care is huge in Planada, where most of the residents depend on agricultural work for their income. Parents, many of whom don’t have health insurance, often struggle to afford eyeglasses which can be very expensive. This financial burden has been compounded by the economic effects of the severe flooding. Olivia Chung said, “Today we’re here for the Care for Highway 99 Vision Program. We know that some students might have lost their glasses during the flood. So we want to come in here to provide the services.”
Claudia González, a flood survivor living in Planada has been busy rebuilding her home since the disaster. Her busy life makes it difficult to find time to take her children to the eye doctor. She said, “No, I didn’t notice anything. I think I was a little surprised, yeah, that they needed glasses.”
Schoolchildren lacking necessary prescription glasses is a common issue in the community. According to Dr. Mónica García, an optometrist volunteer who grew up in the Planada neighborhood, “A lot of these students actually didn’t really realize they saw blurry. It really does change their scholastic, their outlook on their future, really, because these are pivotal moments in their development.”
The children’s faces were filled with joy as they picked out their favorite glasses and saw themselves in the mirror. This exuberant joy is what drove the volunteers to dedicate themselves to this often difficult task.
With the intention of guarding the health of everyone in need, Tzu Chi’s medical team never fears the hardships or difficulties of traveling to remote areas and low-income neighborhoods. Their only desire is that schoolchildren suffering from vision issues can study and live more comfortably, and improve their lives by excelling in school.