Blog submitted by Perry Athanason
Perry Athanason is the Communications Manager on the ORBIS Flying Eye Hospital and has been a member of the crew since November 2007.
When Juan Solarte’s father, former Flying Eye Hospital director Dr Carlos Solarte, told him about an airplane with a hospital inside, he imagined the largest plane he could possibly think of. When seeing the plane for the first time in Santo Domingo, his imagination had served him well. His dad told him that he would be working this week (as much as a six-year-old can do), helping him and the ORBIS team deliver its program to the people of the Dominican Republic.
Sitting on the counter of the communications center aboard the Flying Eye Hospital, six-year old Juan explained to me his impressions of the plane and of doing humanitarian work.
“I didn’t think there would be an elevator inside and I thought that Rich was one of the doctors until I saw him working on the plane,” he explained. “I knew this would be a lot of work and my class back home in Colombia wants me to tell them all about it, but I did not imagine how much work it would really be.”
Juan spent the screening days assembling small ORBIS planes and hand-held FedEx fans to give out to the children and adults waiting in the clinic – his favorite part of the program. He met many children his age and his size and was able to greet them eye to eye. He explained to me that he met many children whose eyes were not well and he felt very sad to know that not all would be candidates for surgery during the program.
On humanitarian work, Juan explained how impressed he was that people would work so hard to help other people. After a moment of thought, Juan looked at me and said,
“The people here are all very nice and I hope they all get better and take care of themselves. I feel like I have made lots of friends here.”
Juan joined us on the plane for an afternoon as research for a humanitarian report he scheduled to give to his class upon his return. He spent time talking with the ORBIS staff and learning about what each person does to contribute to the overall mission of ORBIS.
As we continued our interview, Juan told me how interesting the plane was and how he liked that everybody works really hard to deliver these programs. In closing, Juan could not walk away from the interview without commenting again on the elevator inside the plane and, of course, how funny Hunter and Jinsook were every time he saw them.
When Juan returns home, he will deliver a presentation to his kindergarten class at the Collegio Colombo Britannico (CCB) in Cali, Colombia and explain to them about humanitarian work and his visit to the Flying Eye Hospital.
Photos by Perry Athanason and Carlos Solarte