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LAMI TOWN, Fiji — Basba Wati has diabetes and had worried for months that her eyes were not working properly.
So even though she is not a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, she arrived at the Lami Town meetinghouse in Fiji well before 7 a.m. hoping that the flyer she saw about free eye examinations was true.
A recent storm had caused power outages and flooding in Fiji. Still she waited in front of the meetinghouse. She was sure the doctor would come.
“I can’t read my Bible properly,” she said. “I can’t see very far.”
When the optometrist — a LDS Church member from Calgary, Alberta, Canada — arrived later than expected, she explained that she never lost hope. “We sat and we waited,” Wati told Dr. Rick Nielson and his wife, Ann Nielson. “As soon as we saw you we praised God.”
“We would not miss this,” Ann Nielson replied.
Then the couple went to work.
Rick Nielson conducted the exam; Ann Nielson helped Wati try on prescription glasses. She gave Wati two pair.
“These are for reading,” explained Ann Nielson. “These are to look into the distance.”
Rick Nielson had practiced optometry more than 30 years when he started thinking about service opportunities.
After the Nielsons spent 10 days working in Jamaica with a group of optometrists providing humanitarian eyecare, they received confirmation that they needed to do more.
They found great needs in Fiji — where high diabetes rates require an amputation every 12 hours and greatly impact patients’ eyesight.
“We basically came by faith,” Ann Nielson said.
They hold free eye clinics in LDS meetinghouses, community halls, schools and other locations in Fiji.
On any given day, Rick Nielson conducts about 100 eye exams. During their six-months in Fiji, the couple saw 6,060 patients, and gave away 4,500 glasses.
They estimate that 80 percent of the people they saw were not Latter-day Saints.
“It is good when you can help someone that needs it,” Ann Nielson said.
Rick Nielson said many patients expressed a deep sense of appreciation for the work they did.
On the day they worked in Lami Town, many expressed similar sentiments.
“My eyes are no good,” said 71-year-old Bal Ram, after receiving his exam. “Without glasses I can’t read.”
Manasa Navuku said without glasses he can’t function. To have a professional exam meant the world, he added. “I am very grateful indeed.”
Rick and Ann Nielson said they especially enjoyed helping children — some who had never seen the world in focus before their visit.
But one patient will always stand out in Rick Nielson’s memory. The 74-year-old Latter-day Saint grabbed his arm before he could start his examination, he recalled.
“I am so glad you are here,” she told him. “I have been praying for you to come. I work in the genealogy center. I can’t see the words. You are an answer to my prayers.”
Rick Nielson said he and his wife feel so fortunate to have had the opportunity to serve in Fiji.
“It’s been a lot of hard work, often in less than favorable conditions at times, but we wouldn’t have traded it for anything,” he said. “The joy we receive from giving of ourselves and providing service to others far outweighs any sacrifice we have made in our lives.”
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