Artists for World Peace returns from Tanzanian eyesight mission (Middletown Press)

FROM THE MIDDLETOWN PRESS: Wendy Black-Nasta, founder of Artists for World Peace, has returned to her hometown after three weeks in the village of Kibosho-Umbwe, near Moshi, Tanzania, in the Kilimanjaro region.

She and her 10-member team, including three eye-care professionals, three volunteers and a four-person documentary crew, set up a six-day eye clinic, offering free screening and eyeglasses to nearly 800 people, some of who traveled more than 50 kilometers (31 miles) to be seen.

The services were provided in the health services building that Artists for World Peace had helped build, funded through events in Middletown and on Broadway over the past eight years.

“When I first arrived in Kibosho-Umbwe, I noticed that the older people were squinting — yet no one wore eyeglasses nor had access to care. It was a need we had to address,” said Black-Nasta.

“Through our generous donors, Don Fortin, District Governor to International Lions, of District 33-A in Massachusetts, we were able to provide glasses and sunglasses to all who needed them. Carol Gordon, OD, received a generous donation from Zyloware of 50 pairs of sunglasses; she and Ana Maria Gomes, O.D., secured donations from Bausch + Lomb and Alcon for hundreds of bottles of drops for treating dry eye, allergies, glaucoma and infections.”

The Connecticut professionals — Carol Gordon, O.D., of Madison; Ana Marie Gomes, O.D., of Milford; and Professor Raymond Dennis, coordinator of the Ophthalmic Design and Dispensing program at Middlesex Community College in Middletown — were joined by Dr. Christian Mlundwa, an eye surgeon at Kibosho Hospital.

Mlundwa will continue offering the eye clinic on a monthly basis in Kibosho-Umbwe and will also perform cataract surgery on patients the team has identified. Dennis, with his students, will also be making glasses for special prescriptions they were unable to fill on site.

Spouses Michael Gordon and Rosemarie Dennis were also members of the team and assisted the eye professionals in the clinic.

“Eyesight is essential to a person’s ability to earn a living and be independent,” said Black-Nasta. “We had one patient, a taxi driver, who was thrilled with his new glasses. ‘Now I can see,’ he said. Now he can safely support his family.

“Our doctors said that virtually all the cases of blindness they saw — caused by cataracts and glaucoma — were entirely preventable. We want to help these people — and save the sight of the next generation, our children.”

The group is raising money to pay for the surgeries, each of which cost $50. “We’ve already had some generous donors who’ve agreed to fund the first 20 of these,” Black-Nasta said. “Already, an amputee tells us he’ll be able to walk better, now that he can see the floor, and a woman is telling her church how grateful she is that she can now read her Bible.

“Vision care should be everyone’s right.”

Along with documenting the work of the eye-care team, the documentarians also focused on The Good Hope Trust Orphanage. Founded by Josephine Machuwa, the orphanage has deep ties with AFWP.

The Middletown-based organization has supported these children through sustainability projects and in helping to fund their education over the past seven years. The friendship between Black-Nasta and Machuwa has only deepened since the two met seven years ago: despite their lives on two separate continents they consider themselves sisters.

This was also an especially significant trip, as six more orphans and children in crisis arrived at Machuwa’s door. These children, ranging in age from 7 through 15, were welcomed, comforted, and placed in a local private school with the children who have already been a part of the organization — and were thrilled to welcome their “Mama Wendy” to Kibosho-Umbwe again after a two-year absence.

Also, construction was begun and nearly completed on a new structure at the orphanage, which may ultimately offer hostelers a place to stay and contribute to the work at Good Hope Trust.

Black-Nasta is already planning another medical mission trip and raising funds.

Artists for World Peace on Broadway will offer an evening of Broadway talent at Joe’s Pub in New York City on Oct. 5. Tickets are still available and may be purchased at artistsforworldpeace.org/2014-broadway4.

To learn more about the eye clinic and the follow-up surgeries, see artistsforworldpeace.org.