Laura Boldig’s time at EIU is dwindling, but the senior health studies major intends to use her final months on campus spreading the word about the incredible overseas outreach program in which she participated this summer.
Boldig, a Mattoon native whose degree option is in community health, spent most of May and June in Ghana, volunteering for Unite for Sight. This non-profit organization, founded by a Yale University student in 2000, exists for the purpose of bringing eye care to villagers in Ghana, India and Honduras whose economic situations and remote locales would otherwise not allow for it.
Since returning stateside, Boldig has also agreed to continue serving Unite for Sight as its campus representative at Eastern; she’s tasked with spreading the word locally about this up-and-coming organization.
“What I’d like to do is get more people to be a part of the organization so they can start a fundraising chapter here,” explained Boldig. “I’m almost done here and (starting a chapter) would be hard for me to do, so I’m just trying to spread the word.”
So what exactly did Boldig do as a Unite for Sight volunteer? The basic formula for her group was to spend several nights in one of Ghana’s larger cities, such as Accra or Kumasi, and travel several hours each day to various outreach sites. Boldig’s traveling party consisted of a nurse, an opthamologist, and a group of volunteers that consulted with patients, whose needs ranged from simple eyeglass prescriptions to surgeries for cataracts and glaucoma.
“We’d just go and set up at a church or school,” explained Boldig. “The patients will hear about (the organization) ahead of time; people spread the word that we’re coming.
“My role was talking to the patients, trying to communicate with them; taking their age and name and other information, asking them what’s wrong with their eyes. After they’d seen the doctor, I’d usually distribute eyeglasses or medication.”
Coordinating with Eastern’s Office of Study Abroad, Boldig also used the experience to complete the internship portion of her degree program.
“I knew I had to do an internship and didn’t know what I wanted to do,” Boldig recalled. “I wanted to travel abroad somewhere, and my internship coordinator, Kathy Phillips, had been sending me different possibilities. She sent me a link for (Unite for Sight) and I decided I was going to do it.”
Once that decision was made, the real work began. A mountain of pre-trip paperwork, both for EIU and for Unite for Sight, was necessary. Boldig also had to raise $2000, money used to finance the numerous cataract and glaucoma surgeries she observed during the excursion. Unite for Sight also required that she collect 500 pairs of eyeglasses, complete online training exercises, and assume the costs of her flights, food and lodging.
“I had tuition figured into my costs, too, but the whole experience was still worth every penny,” assured Boldig with surprisingly little hesitation. When asked, she didn’t need long to elaborate.
“The best part about it was just communicating with the patients. It was hard, but at the same time it was very rewarding once you finally got through to them. They were so thankful, because they have very little eye care in Ghana. They were so appreciative of what we were doing for them.
“When we weren’t working, we were also able to travel and see some cool things. I climbed Ghana’s tallest mountain and went to a waterfall and on a safari. We were there to work, but there was a lot of fun time as well.”
Boldig also relished the time spent with other volunteers as well as the countless natives she encountered.
“Everyone I worked with was so welcoming,” said Boldig, who also managed to develop quite a taste for fufu, one of the country’s most prominent foods. “Everyone I came into contact with was so happy to have me in their country. Every staff member I worked with was just welcoming and glad I was there.”
The experience netted plenty of personal satisfaction as well.
“(Going to Africa) was a little intimidating,” Boldig admitted. “On the plane, I was talking to myself and wondering why I picked Africa for my first trip abroad. I did a little research, but you never know exactly what to expect. Once I got there, it was comfortable and I wasn’t worried about anything.
“I think it just kind of shows me as a leader; someone who isn’t scared to take chances and see what happens. I think that would stand out to employers, and personally I know I can do anything.”
As mentioned, Boldig is interested in recruiting EIU students to become a part of Unite for Sight. Whether you’re a student who’d like to travel overseas, somebody interested in raising money for the organization, or a faculty member who’d like to have her come speak to a class, you can reach Laura at email@example.com. Students interested in volunteering for academic credit should also contact the Office of Study Abroad for details at firstname.lastname@example.org or 217-581-7267.