12/29/13 — Scout takes glasses to Cuba, has eyes opened while there

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Scout takes glasses to Cuba, has eyes opened while there

By Steve Herring
Published in News on December 29, 2013 1:50 AM

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Sam de Araujo, right, stands with one of the men who received a pair of the reading glasses he took to Cuba.

Sam de Araujo's Eagle Scout project to help people see better also helped to open his own eyes to the plight of others less fortunate than him.

Sam, 15, and his father, Dr. Bill de Araujo, were in Cuba as part of a North Carolina Baptist Men's mission trip, Nov. 14 through 22.

A member of Troop 9 at Walnut Creek, Sam also carried 300 pairs of non-prescription reading glasses that he and his fellow troop members had collected.

About three-fourths of the donated glasses were bought new and donated for the project.

"I started in the middle of October, so I didn't have a whole lot of time anyway," Sam said. "I just started from then until I left for the trip.

"Our troop just split up and we went into neighborhoods and asked for donations from people. We put baskets at my church (Crossway Church) and my grandparents' church (Fremont UMC)."

Dr. de Araujo suggested the project to his son after talking with a friend about a possible mission trip to Cuba where the glasses are in great demand, but many people cannot afford them.

"My old church was already going on a mission trip, and I had signed up for it to go to Cuba," Sam said. "We were talking to a guy who has been there before. He told us that he had brought a few glasses before and that was one of the things people there needed the most."

North Carolina Baptist Men groups have been going to Cuba since 2006, Dr. de Araujo said.

"Not just anybody can go to Cuba," he said. "Our State Department made a policy called People to People, and Fidel (Castro) and his brother Raul allowed humanitarian groups to come in as long as you were providing one-to-one help or assistance. So you could go there through a church organization, like we did, where we were helping in a construction project. That was our main mission.

"Or you can go there like a cultural mission. Like you are an artist and want to share your experience with a local Cuban artist. So there are other groups going, but you can't go for profit or business, for military or vacation."

The group took a chartered flight from Miami to Santiago on the southeastern part of the island, about two hours from Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. Dr. de Araujo speaks Spanish, but the group had a translator with it.

"The real miracle is that when we got into country, the pastor who got us from the airport couldn't believe that we got in country with 300 pairs of glasses because it is illegal to bring in any more than 10 of anything," Dr. de Araujo said. "We didn't know that. We just showed up and went through customs.

"The pastor was like, 'This is a miracle of God that you have come here and not get detained by custom agents.' Once we were on site we were like, 'Well great, so now we have all of these glasses, but we can't give them out because if the government finds out, we'll get in trouble.'"

The pastor told them not to worry, that he would take care of it.

They went to four church services between Saturday and Sunday and by word of mouth, the fact that glasses were available spread throughout the entire region.

And people just started coming, Sam said.

"We only had a few people at first, but they went back to where they lived and told their friends and family," Sam said. "People just came when they could, any time of the day, and we just helped them out whenever they came."

All but a few of the glasses were distributed. The leftovers were given to the church.

Sam said that what stayed with him the most was watching the people's reaction to getting the glasses. One woman traveled two hours from the mountains to the town and brought a Bird of Paradise flower to thank Sam for the glasses.

"I liked it a lot," he said. "Some people had glasses, but they didn't really work that well. They were just surprised to see everything clearly and be able to read again. The people were very surprised and glad."

The people also were appreciative of the construction work the mission team was doing, he said.

"We were adding on to another floor to a retirement home for pastors there," Sam said. "Most of the stuff that we did while were there was laying a brick wall.

"I am just a whole lot more grateful for everything that I have. I was just surprised how everybody here has so much more than they did, but still want more. I do that, too."

Some of the workers did not have shirts or shoes half of the time, Sam said.

"So we brought a lot of clothes (to wear) and we left them there for the workers that were working with us on the retirement home," Dr. de Araujo said. "When we left you didn't want to take anything home with you."