Mission to Romania:
Student's effort brings sight to
November 13, 2000
When her plane landed in Romania this April, Jen Bomba was startled by the poverty she met.
“I think you could send all the money in the world to Romania but they wouldn’t know what to do with it,” she said. “The average family there lives on $100 a month. They are very, very poor. Their economy is so poor, they live in a vicious cycle to survive.”
Tall, slim, 27, soft-spoken, Bomba is a dedicated second-year student in the College of Optometry at Pacific University, Oregon.
“When I think about my time in Romania, it made me realize how much we take for granted in this country. It made me appreciate everything I have in my life,” she said.
She grew up in Craig and graduated with the class of ’91 from Moffat County High School. Craig is still home, and she returns here as often as she can to visit old friends and her mother, JoAnne Martino, who is a nurse at The Memorial Hospital.
Bomba went to Romania with a team of 13 other students and two doctors from Pacific University as a volunteer in the Amigos Eye Care program, a student-run nonprofit organization.
Amigos’ mission is to provide free high-quality vision care to under served people in the Portland area and throughout the world. The students in the Amigos program collect thousands of pairs of eye glasses from organizations such as the Lions Club.
“We go through each pair and, for every 100 pair, about 30 to 40 are useable,” Bomba said. Lensometers read the prescription in the eye glasses, and glasses are given to the those in need who match the prescription. Bomba said the students are able to diagnose systemic diseases when they check the eyes.
“Lots of diseases show up in the eye cholesterol, HBP, thyroid, diabetes,” she said. “We look at the back of the retina with an ophthalmoscope.”
In the 10 days they were in Romania, the Amigos students set up six clinics, with the help of a translator, in Romanian orphanages. Bomba said there are more than 200 orphanages in the small country.
“The former dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu, ordered all the women to have many children and said that he would take care of them. After they were born, he took them away from the mothers and put them into these orphanages.” she said. “The kids are confined to the orphanage compounds by high fences. They never leave. They have no possessions. Only a bed and the clothes on their back. There’s one caregiver for about every 30 to 50 kids. When they’re 18, they turn them out on the street. It was really very hard to see these conditions over there.”
Bomba said the country is beautiful.
“Green mountains. But when you mention it, they think you’re crazy because their lives are so awful, they can’t see the beauty around them. They all ask about America. Their eyes light up. They think America is a land of gold,” she said.
The majority of the children Bomba examined were farsighted.
“We saw about 1,200 kids in six days, working 10 to 12 hours a day. All ages,” she said. “We may be the only medical care they receive.”
Some people screw up their faces when Bomba tells them she went to another country to help the people.
“They say, ‘There’s enough people in this country who need help why go over there?’ But it doesn’t really matter what country we live in, we’re all just people,” she said. “I simply took the opportunity to go help someone.”
On the first day of her clinic, a dark-haired Romanian boy about 10 years old stood before Bomba.
“He needed glasses, he’d never worn them and simply could not see anything. He had a really high prescription, off the charts. When I finally found a pair of glasses for him, and put them on him, his face I’ll never forget this he looked around and he could see clearly for the first time in his life. He jumped back in surprise. It was just wonderful I can’t even describe how it felt to see that,” she said.
Another “Amigos moment” that’s what the students call them happened for Bomba with an elderly Romanian woman.
“She came into clinic with a hymnal in her hands. She went to church all the time and loved to sing, but couldn’t read the hymnal anymore. When I fit her with glasses, she kissed my hand and was crying. There are little things we take for granted here, like going to the drug store to buy a pair of reading glasses,” she said.
“It was really a life-changing experience for me we touched so many lives,” she said. “It definitely impacted my career choice. I really got to see how helping someone to see could change their life.”
Bomba would like to go back to Romania, but students have to pay their own way and it’s expensive. Guadalajara is closer and she plans to travel there over the Thanksgiving holiday to help people on another Amigos mission.