Students in Hereford High School's Key Club had a chance to see the difference they made in the lives of people living across the globe.
The club's 60 members had collected used eyeglasses, sunglasses, coloring books, candy and small toys for OneSight, a nonprofit group that organized a two-week missions trip to India in February.
Thanks to the donations of the students and others, thousands of Indian people benefitted.
Parkton resident Diane Bernitt — mother to Lisa and Lauren Litwak who attend Hereford High School — went on the trip. Bernitt gave eye examinations and distributed glasses to people living in remote villages.
Bernitt is an optometrist who owns Pearle Vision in the Hunt Valley Towne Centre. She collects old eyeglasses from her patients for OneSight and has been on local mission trips before. This was her first international venture. Bernitt visted Key Club recently to tell students about the trip.
"It was like living a National Geographic episode," she told Key Club members on May 3 when she talked about her trip while showing photos of a man riding an elephant down a street, camels walking in a row along a road, and cows and pigs sharing a sidewalk with residents.
In two weeks, Bernitt and 33 members of the volunteer group saw 6,000 people from villages with no electricity, no running water and no sewer systems.
In all, they handed out 11,000 pair of glasses, including nonprescription sunglasses and reading glasses. They set up a clinic outside of a school and used a generator to power their computers and equipment.
Bernitt said the group was shocked by the number of people whose eyes were sun-damaged and those who are blind or going blind from diseases that are curable in the United States.
"I cried the first time I saw a blind child who would have been fine if he had antibiotics," she said. "But I had to concentrate on all the people who can see again because of the glasses we brought. The people were constantly blessing us."
Before working eight hours a day, the volunteers traveled three hours by bus from a retreat house in northern India, near Pakistan, to a rural village near the Thar desert. They then spent three hours in a bus to go back for dinner and bed.
Bernitt's daughter Lisa Litwak, a senior, belongs to Hereford's Key Club, a community service group. She spread the word about her mother's trip and the group responded.
Megan Weeren, a junior, went house-to-house in her neighborhood and collected 15 pairs of glasses. Others brought in small toys that were given to children who often waited in line all day with their parents before having their eyes examined.
"We do a lot of projects, but we never get to see the effect of what we do," said Key Club advisor Ashley Chapa. "We didn't have much time to collect glasses this time, but I hope next year we can do more."
Bernitt wants to place collection boxes for donated glasses at several North County locations next year. She also will accept used glasses at Pearle Vision in Hunt Valley Towne Centre.
"Going on this mission was the most rewarding thing I have done in my life. I will continue to act as an ambassador for OneSight, raising awareness and going on yearly missions for as long as I can," Bernitt said. "Something as worthless as a pair of outgrown glasses can literally change someone else's life. It gives back independence, mobility and quality of life."
To learn more, go to http://www.onesight.org.