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Helping Third World citizens see the future

Not long ago, if you lived in Guatemala and you were poor and had failing eyesight, your entire livelihood was at risk. Then one optician found a way to make a difference. NBC's Carl Quintanilla reports.

SAN JORGE, Guatemala — In the village of San Jorge, everything now is a little clearer.

That’s because reading glasses — the kind usually found in U.S. drug stores — are being purchased here for the first time, thanks to the Scojo Foundation, a group created by optometrist Jordan Kassalow, who has worked in dozens of countries with the same problem.

“There were millions of people who were losing their livelihoods because they couldn't see up close after the age of 40,” says Kassalow. “It happens to everybody.”

His solution? Train local women, like Yoli Garcia, to become entrepreneurs and supply them with glasses they can sell cheaply to the people they understand best.

“My people are the people of these villages,” she says.

With Scojo's help, women like Garcia have sold 20,000 glasses worldwide.

This kind of work is a big step in a country where corrective vision barely exists. For some communities, the nearest optician can be five to 15 hours away.

For the women, it's a life-changing opportunity to learn the fine art of sales, which is unheard of in a culture where women generally either weave, sell food or stay home.

Greg van Kirk is the regional director of Scojo in Latin America.

“To actually have a professional opportunity,” says van Kirk, “where they're going out and helping others with something as — perceived to be — as complex as eye care, is a total rarity.”

Kassalow gives 5 percent of his U.S. eyewear sales to support Scojo. But the plan, eventually, is to let the women sell on their own.

“It's going to be a blueprint of how we can make the world a better place,” he says.

A place where the poor can once again see well enough to sew or read the Bible, thanks to a pair of lenses and the doctor who saw a need.