No longer seeing the world in a blur - Maryknoll Lay Missioners
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Jacobo with his new glasses

Recently my wife, lay missioner Loyce Veryser, has been concerned about one of the students in her class of freshmen. She was surprised to find that this student, Jacobo, wouldn’t take notes during her classes, although he would sit in the front of the class and seemed to be listening closely. If asked a question, he always was able to show that he was paying attention and understood the lessons. One day he came right up to the board and started to take notes from what she had written in large chalk letters. He was only a foot or so from the board and taking notes while standing that close.

When she later asked him, he explained that even from the front row he could not see the board. Shockingly he had gone through seven years of primary school with the same problem and never had his eyes checked out. Loyce shared the problem with the other teachers, and they organized a collection among the teachers and students to get him help.

The teachers realized that he had a difficult home life and was being raised by an older brother who was just struggling to get by himself. They suspected that the issue may be more than just nearsightedness, but when Loyce found time to take him to the optometrist—there are a couple in Mwanza—they determined that he just needed glasses. I’ve been wearing glasses myself since I was about 10 years old and my prescription is -3.75, down from a -4.0 at one point. Yacobo’s prescription is a whopping 5.5.

I remembered a time when I had lost my glasses sailing when I was 12 or 13 years old and had to go for a hard couple of days without glasses. A couple of days (and that due only to the privilege of sailing for leisure) versus at least seven years (on account of his family lacking means), is a big difference to say the least. I had to admit, in spite of living here almost 15 years, I literally still couldn’t imagine what it would be like to grow up as Jacobo had, seeing the world in a blur.

Loyce teaching math at Kitangiri Secondary School in Mwanza

When they took up the collection for him, the students and teachers were able to raise the equivalent of over $200. The more than 1,000 students at school raised most of the amount from small change they had brought to school to buy snacks and cover their bus fare.

Though Jacobo finally got glasses, he’s still getting used to them. He had grown accustomed to picking his feet up high, so he wouldn’t trip on something while walking—like he’s trudging through snow—and hasn’t yet gotten used to walking without doing so.

I remembered the Bible story of Jacob and his twin brother and something about blindness and looked it up again. As parents of twins, we could certainly relate to Jacob’s jealousy of his older twin’s birthright. Our second twin, Justin, has often seemed jealous of Abigail. While Jacob is said to have grasped his twin’s heal as they were born, when Justin was born, he let a steady stream of pee in Abigail’s direction! In Genesis, Jacob takes advantage of his brother’s impulsiveness and his father’s blindness to claim the older twin, Esau’s, birthright. However, Jacob goes on to have some of his own trouble with perception and deception when he’s drawn into marrying the wrong sister of a family he’s working for.

Back at Kitangiri School, when the teachers spoke with Jacobo’s grandfather, they were surprised to hear that many members of Jacobo’s family struggle with nearsightedness. With his newfound perception, Jacobo looks toward a brighter future and hopes that with an education he’ll be better able to help others in his family.


Steve Veryser
Based in Mwanza, Tanzania, Steve Veryser is Maryknoll Lay Missioners' area director for Africa and Asia. He also teaches math to deaf students at Bwiru Boys Technical Secondary School. Steve and his wife, Loyce, have been Maryknoll lay missioners since 2018.