When Lewis Swann was 10 years old, he heard a message from a renowned evangelist. His young heart was greatly impacted, and he knew his life calling was to help people in Africa. Years later, that he found himself living out this dream as a volunteer onboard the Africa Mercy.
During his three years as public relations coordinator, Lewis helped tell the powerful stories of transformation happening onboard. Along the way, he discovered a newfound faith that began to change him from the inside out.
While serving with Mercy Ships in Togo, his eyes were opened to a very real need. But seeing wasn’t enough. Lewis wanted to do something.
“I realized I’m not supposed to leave Africa… but I didn’t know what that was going to look like. When I asked God for my calling, it felt like jumping off a cliff,” said Lewis. Two years later, in 2012, Lewis officially founded Sight.org. This innovative operation provides free eye surgeries in remote regions of Togo. Inspired by the Mercy Ships model of hospital ships, Lewis took it one step further by carrying out his mission via a mobile clinic.
“The reason we go remote is because nobody is going there. Mercy Ships has such a great platform because it goes to the ports where there’s the biggest populations. We’re a similar model. What the ship does in ports, we do in-land to remote places where doctors just don’t go.”
With a team solely made up of Africans, some with a history serving with Mercy Ships, they travel by van with sterilization and OR supplies packed tightly on top of the roof. Included amid the team’s gear are tents and cooking supplies. Together, the team traverses the 21,000 square miles of the country, setting up shop in local hospitals for three weeks at a time. It’s just enough time to screen for local patients, provide pre-op examinations, perform surgeries, and then care for patients after surgery. And then, on to the next village.
It’s an amazing feat that’s seen thousands of patients’ vision – and entire lives – transformed.
“We started with 11 patients. In our first year, I think we did 37 surgeries. And now we do up to two hundred surgeries in a week.” At the helm in the operating room is Dr. Avia, the lead surgeon of Sight.org, who jokingly calls himself “the grandchild of Mercy Ships.” He was trained in the MSICS method by Mercy Ships partnering surgeon, Dr. Abram Wodomé, who runs a cataract clinic and training program in Togo. Now, Dr. Avia continues this legacy by training the next generation of cataract surgeons himself.
“I operate on cataracts in rural areas with Sight.org Sight.org to be able to give life to the poor. I saw that there was a lot of demand in ophthalmology,” said Dr. Avia. “When people are blind, they stay in their rooms. I saw this and I said that I had to do something, so I decided to specialize in ophthalmology to be able to operate on people and restore their sight.” Under Lewis’ guidance, Sight.org has been performing surgeries for nearly a decade. In this time, more than 3,500 patients have had their vision restored through cataract surgeries.
Patients just like Alice and Edom. At 12 years old, Alice had never known life without the congenital cataract blinding one of her eyes. Her limited vision made it difficult to see the school chalkboard and follow the words, slowing her progress.
Her neighbor, Edom, had lost vision in one eye a few years ago. Early mornings were particularly difficult for him to navigate, as well as after nightfall. At 16 years old, he was hoping cataract surgery would improve his vision and allow him a healthy future. Both Alice and Edom received surgery thanks to Sight.org – and both were a success! Only days afterwards, Alice was playing hopscotch with her friends while Edom was back to his latest venture: learning how to play the piano.
Back in 2010, when he was first onboard a Mercy Ship praying about making a difference, Lewis had no idea how his passion would manifest. But 10 years later, there’s no question that this former volunteer has made his mark. And a decade later, Sight.org returned to its roots, with Mercy Ships offering to sponsor approximately 1,000 eye surgeries in 2021 – doubling its number of annual surgeries.
You never know where volunteering will take you. With a willing heart and an adventurous spirit, applying to come onboard is only the beginning. All you’ve got to do is say yes. Learn more at http://mercyships.org/makeyourmark