Therese served as a volunteer Ophthalmic Technician in the Republic of Congo and again in the Republic of Madagascar. She was touched by the value that Mercy Ships places on its volunteers.“I like that everyone is equal. It’s emphasized again and again, everywhere,that no matter where you work, you are a big part of what is going in the OR.And to me that’s priceless.” Therese Lovund’s decision to become an optometrist was driven by her desire to serve with Mercy Ships in Africa. Therese remembers being in Newcastle doing her DTS (Discipleship Training School) in 2001 when a team from the ship came and talked to them about the Mercy Ships and she realized, “that’s what I want to do”. She always thought that she would go to school quickly and head to straight to Africa, but things took longer than she thought.
She remembers, “I had this card, a Mercy Ships post card,that my friend gave to me and told me, ‘Don’t give up on the dream!’” After coming for a short term visit in 2008, she finally came back in 2013 to fulfill her dream of serving long term on the ship. After serving in Congo and the first field service in Madagascar, she went home during the second outreach in Madagascar….to get married! “In Madagascar, because of different circumstances,we had to put the eye team on hold and so starting up this year has been exciting” Therese says, “I was happy that I was able to come back at this time and being pretty experienced with the eye team I was able to help start it again.”
It turns out that being an optometrist in Africa is very different from being an optometrist in Norway, mostly because the perspective is very different. “Here it’s helping people…it’s see or not see. Instead of see perfect or see a little bit less than perfect.” Working with Mercy Ships means that she gets to see daily transformations in patients. Therese remembers a patient she treated a few weeks ago, a 19 year-old named Paula, whose diabetes caused white cataracts in both eyes. “I remember her coming in, she couldn’t see anything. You know when you can’t see other people’s faces you don’t have much of a facial expression, you’re serious” she says, “she had surgery in both eyes and the thing is she can see, it’s almost 20/20, it’s almost perfect after the surgery, which is amazing and she was so happy.”
Therese says Africa has really transformed the way she sees people and the way she does her job. Because she’s very task oriented she said at the beginning she could come off as very cold, focused on the other fifty people who were waiting for her and getting the job done. Being with Mercy Ships has taught her that each person matters, “It’s all about seeing that one patient that you have in front of you, it’s a life, it’s a person, it’s not the group. And for that one person, it is life changing that they can now tie their own shoelaces or walk by themselves.” She’s not sure what will come next, saying “I used to have a five-year plan. I used to have a plan but it always ended in Mercy Ships.” She is living in the present and no longer focuses on what’s next. She feels like she is in the right place and loves going to work every day.
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