Inspired by Naomi Benaron’s novel “Running The Rift,” a Lake Oswego Reads novel set during the 1994 Rwandan genocide, Barbara and Todd Briscoe, doctors of optometry co-owners of West Linn’s Eye to Eye Clinic, decided to take a different kind of two-week summer vacation with their children Joanna, 14, and Will, 13, last July.
The packing was different as well. Thanks to the generosity of local charity groups, schools, businesses, and individuals in their local community, the Briscoes were able to bring along 900 pairs of glasses, ophthalmic equipment, eye medications, used clothing, 25 deflated soccer balls.
Barbara Briscoe, who read the novel last February, said, “I just had to go to this country I barely knew existed. I was deeply affected by the narrative.”
The family traded in riding on amusement park rides and driving air-conditioned cars for riding buses on dirt roads to volunteer in medical field clinics in villages near Kigali with the organization Africa New Life Ministries.
The Briscoes will share photographs and stories from their mission trip from 7 to 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Nov. 8-9 at Lake Oswego Art Center, 510 1st Street, Lake Oswego.
“Most roads in Rwanda are still unpaved, and we admired our bus driver’s skill to navigate between vehicles, bikes carrying multiple people, pedestrians laden with goods carried on top of their heads, cows, goats and potholes too numerous to count,” Barbara Briscoe said. “Everywhere we went we were surrounded by a warm welcome and dozens of children who flocked around in excitement yelling ‘muzungus, muzungus,’ which means white people.”
Like most vacations, it was an adventure.
But this one was more.
“It was a life-changing and moving experience. We were very excited to provide medical attention for these children,” the mom of two said. “At the same time it filled our hearts because we got to meet these wonderful people.”
While conducting vision screening, they also saw first hand other basic health issues such as vitamin deficiency, intestinal parasites, fungal skin disease, and severe allergies.
“We were touched by all the poverty we witnessed and the extreme simplicity of life,” Briscoe said.
When they returned to West Linn, Barbara Briscoe felt compelled to continue the work in a more permanent way, which is one of the purposes of the two presentations.
Her goal is to raise enough money to staff a permanent nurse in each of the five schools run in that community by Africa New Life Ministries.
“We only can go so often,” she mused. “Wow, what if we could have full-time nurses who could help permanently?”