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Skip Charles ’55 Aids Eye Care in El Salvador

Through a humanitarian effort to bring eye care to rural populations in El Salvador, Howard “Skip” Charles ’55 has contributed his programming expertise to organize large inventories of eyeglasses.

In 1988 a group of Boston-based volunteers involved with the Salvadoran Association for Rural Health (ASAPROSAR) recognized that the people served by this organization had no access to eye care. Since then, the Friends of ASAPROSAR have recruited optometrists and ophthalmologists, collected used glasses, and sponsored annual eye clinics in Santa Ana, and more recently, San Miguel, El Salvador.

Charles was tapped by the group to write a program that would help organize and dispense their inventory of used eyeglasses, which now numbers 10,000.

“The program is named REIMS (Richmond Eyeglass Inventory Matching System) for the late Dr. Philip Richmond, who taught me what I needed to know to write it and participated in its refinement,” says Charles. “The program frees up the eye professionals to do the exams and allows lay people to enter the desired prescriptions, obtain ranked listings of the best matches in the inventory, and dispense them.”

In 2004, the Friends sent some 50 volunteers to the annual weeklong clinic, which treated more than 1,600 patients, and dispensed more than 900 pairs of eyeglasses.

Charles wrote the program in 1996 and has been traveling to El Salvador with the group ever since.

“You can’t imagine what it’s like to see someone walk in to the clinic and then walk out, able to read,” says Charles. “This clinic has changed their lives.”

A growing number of organizations have adopted the REIMS program, including VOSH/International (Volunteer Optometric Services to Humanity). In June, Skip Charles and Philip Richmond (posthumously) will be honored as the VOSH/International Humanitarians of the Year.

Charles, who earned his B.S. in electrical engineering at Rensselaer and MBA at Harvard Business School, is a retired consultant and former president of the publishing company Robert Bentley Inc. The REIMS program is available as freeware on the Friends Web site at www.friendsofasaprosar.org.

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