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Q&A with Long-time Volunteer Deborah Smith

Updated: Apr 4

We caught up with Deborah Smith, a longtime volunteer. We asked Smith to recount her experiences and impressions from her first trip to Guatemala with Hope Alliance..

How did you hear about Hope Alliance’s vision expeditions to Guatemala? 

In 2015, I was sitting in St. Luke’s Episcopal Church on a Sunday morning when Father Charles announced that Hope Alliance was looking for volunteers to join an expedition to Guatemala to provide vision care and prescription eyeglasses.


Have you ever done something like that before? No, never.


Deborah Smith with Alejandro

What did you expect? I was nervous about traveling to an impoverished country. I even brought my own sheets.


Once you got there, what was your first impression?  Volcanoes can be beautiful and scary at the same time. 


How many patients came?  We saw 1,400 patients in five days.


Can you describe your Guatemalan patients? When we arrived at the clinic on the first day, there was a line that wrapped around the block. Some of the people had been there since sunrise. You could see they wore their finest clothing - this was a big outing for them. Most of the women wore the traditional Guatemalan dress, hand embroidered blouses and wrap skirts with beaded belts. The men wore striped shorts embroidered at the hem, and many wore cowboy hats. Many had children with them, coming in for their first eye exams. 

Guatemalans cook on open fires in their homes and burn their trash so there is a good deal of smoke in the air. We gave out a lot of eye drops as most complained of burning and itching. 


How has the clinic in Guatemala changed since your first trip? A lot has changed in the past 10 years since I started going to Guatemala. Hope Alliance no longer brings thousands of donated eyeglasses. We now bring mostly readers instead and also a small number of prescription eyeglasses that could accommodate most common vision issues. We also bring with us equipment for a more thorough eye exam and order custom glasses for each patient who needs them. Unfortunately, this reduces the number of people we can see, but we are better at meeting their needs.

What sticks out in your memory about the people you worked with and the patients you met?  What a diverse group of volunteers!  Everyone had a good attitude and came because they wanted to help. The patients were so grateful - lots and lots of smiles and hugs. Some had never worn glasses and were amazed at what they could see. Also, they were curious about “the Americans” - not too many blondes in Guatemala.


What stayed with you when you left? I asked myself how I could do more to help. And I have. I personally connected with our guide and interpreter Marielena, and I wanted to do what I could to make her family’s lives better. I helped her son Alejandro attend English school, and her sister Patti attend law school. During COVID there were no groups going to Guatemala, and Marielena lost her income from guiding. I bought her a cooler so that she could make and sell ice cream. What stays with me even today is how little they need and how much we have. 


Would you go on the expedition again? Yes, I have been back five times!

Growing up in Southern California, Deborah Smith’s family owned an optical manufacturing business. She was the third generation to join the business, and eventually became president of the company.  The optical lab grinds lenses for glasses where optometrists, ophthalmologists and opticians send their prescriptions to be manufactured. Now retired, Deborah resides in Park City and is a member of the vestry of St. Luke’s Espiscopal Church. She and her husband recently celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary and enjoy their time with three adult children and their families.  She also enjoys cooking, reading and hiking. 

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