By Melissa Ha
Have you seen our video “The Hardest Working Grandma in Santa Barbara“? Read Melissa’s heartwarming story about how Hortencia got in contact with SEE, and how your support changed her life and the lives of her family members.
I first met Hortencia during a summer job at an inn. She was the housekeeper, and most days it would be just me and her. Every morning she would greet me with the warmest smile. She knew few words in English, and my Spanish wasn’t great. That didn’t stop us from trying to get to know each other.
With Google Translate pulled up on my phone, I would ask her about her family and she would ask me about mine. This woman is seriously superhuman. She is a single mom, works two jobs, and cares for her elderly mother, children, and two grandchildren. She never complained once and seemed to be in a good mood every day.
But what we truly bonded over were her tamales! I’m not a morning person, so I rarely had time to make myself something to eat before my shift. She quickly caught on to that and would bring me a tamale or two each morning.
I didn’t realize until a few weeks ago just how much she must have struggled making those tamales. Or biking to work every morning with the rising sun’s reflection in her eyes. Or how hard her job had become for her in the last couple years as her cataracts had progressed.
When I found the job listing to join the Development team at SEE, I learned about the work they do. I told Hortencia that I was applying to a nonprofit that might be able to help her with her cataracts. We sat down together and called to make an appointment. A couple weeks later, I drove her to SEE’s free local clinic, where she received an eye exam, and got a referral to see one of our local volunteers, Dr. Katsev.
The day before her surgery, I met with Hortencia, and she finally opened up about her struggles with her deteriorating vision. I was surprised to hear that she hasn’t been able to do some of her hobbies that she loves like sewing. (Remember, she is the type of person who rarely, if ever, complains.) But most importantly, she just wanted to be the best mom, grandma, and daughter she could be. She explained how her vision hasn’t allowed that for some time.
The next day, her surgery went perfectly! As I stood by her in the exam room for her follow-up later that day, she couldn’t stop smiling. She couldn’t believe how quickly she had regained her vision and how clearly she could see. She kept saying thank you to everyone in the room and told us that now that she could see well, we’re all invited to her house for dinner!
Hortencia is just one of thousands of hardworking individuals in the United States who can’t afford the eye care necessary to not only better her standard of living, but also those she loves and cares for. As SEE’s programs grow, I’m excited to be able to help more people like Hortencia gain access to the treatment they need. They are such an integral part of our community and truly deserve the chance to a future that isn’t hindered by avoidable blindness.