The Wrong Road For The Right Reason
Somewhere deep in Southern Africa, far beyond the paved roads of Cape Town or Johannesburg, there is a man by the name of Anton Poplett. He’s there on a mission, and I had to learn how I could help spread the word.
As I flew from Seattle to the unspoiled landscape of Botswana, I looked down and saw a single road cutting through one of the wildest places on Earth. Little did I know I would soon be standing in the middle of a road just like that one, thigh-deep in muddy water, wondering what I had gotten myself into.
I first connected with Anton close to a year ago. I had received an email about his work providing life-changing prescription eyewear to children in some of the most remote villages of Southern Africa. After a few calls back and forth with Anton, it was clear this was a story that needed to be heard. As a part of iKamper’s commitment to Love People & Love Nature, we dedicated our 2021 Giveback Giveaway to support Anton’s work with 4x4Outfar. The iKamper community showed its true colors and donated more than $20,000 to further 4x4Outfar’s work. Fast forward 6 months, and as I watched muddy water spill over the hood of Anton’s 2010 Defender there was no doubt left in my mind... this guy, his team, and their positive impact on the community are the real deal.
Leading up to this trip, the word “wild” seemed to find its way into conversations with Anton quite regularly. As an avid adventure seeker in my own right, I took it with a grain of salt knowing that word can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. I know now that I’d be leaving with a whole new understanding of “wild” by the time I left Botswana.
When I landed in Maun, Botswana after a leg cramping 48 hours of airport travel, Anton was waiting to greet me with what I would come to know as South African hospitality. As we drove, Anton explained that possibly the most important piece of this adventure was situated right next to my luggage. A fully self-sufficient prescription eyewear inventory and diagnostic system that allowed him and his team to do what they do successfully. Over the next week and a half, I learned just how impactful this corrective eyewear system would be. As well as how essential the Skycamp 2.0 was to complete the 4x4Outfar team’s rigs. Learn more about it here.
We pulled up to the first school and established an order of operations that would become more and more efficient as each day of the trip passed.
Step 1. Find the best-shaded area in the schoolyard to park our rigs. Almost always under massive trees in the middle of the property.
Step 2. Measure out a 4-meter distance from the side of our vehicles where eye charts were mounted. The classic ones you might recognize from your own childhood eye exams.
Step 3. Greet the kids who have already spilled out of their classrooms with excitement, and separate them into lines with the help of the school teachers.
Starting with the large “E” at the top of the chart, a chorus of “Good!” and “Well Done!” echoed throughout the schoolyard as the testing was underway. Followed by bursts of laughter and curiosity from children waiting in line. Eventually, a small group of children would form a new line for secondary testing.
This is when the real work begins. Often paired with a local teacher, Anton’s crew would take what they like to call the “You See” glasses, and gently fit them on a child’s face. You See glasses have one small opening for each eye with a dial on either side to adjust lenses and identify prescription strength needed. Once the initial confusion was sorted out, the children would turn the dial for each eye and watch as their world slowly came into focus for the first time. After a few minutes to set the prescription lenses into frames, we were handing the children a brand new pair of eyeglasses on the spot.
Like many youngsters, they were often shy at first and would calmly walk away, but as soon as they got back to their group of friends a big smile would appear on their faces and life would pick up right where it left off. Teachers at each school would share with us some of the struggles that certain students had been experiencing simply because they couldn’t see what was written on the chalkboard. Watching children struggle to discern even the largest letters on the vision chart, it hit home that they have been living with this issue every moment of every day. For many of us, an issue like this would be identified and dealt with at a very early age. 4x4Outfar’s work is giving these children the chance see clearly for the first time in their lives.
Anton and his team have been doing this work for close to four years now. They shared a particular story with me that was very similar to the schoolyard in front of me. On a previous trip, they helped a young boy with prescription lenses. After receiving his new glasses, he improved exponentially in school, and along the way even taught himself how to knit. Anton explained to me that over the past two years this young man was able to knit scarves and sell them to support his family. Eventually earning enough to buy himself a brand new school uniform.
Stories like these, along with so many others, demonstrate the incredible ripple effect of this work. When a community of people comes together to spread love far beyond their borders, that is what it truly means to Love People & Love Nature.