From the get-go, teacher Ben Legow felt something wasn't quite right.
His students - children at a small public school in Kyrgyzstan - weren't participating in class the way he thought they should.
''I'd put up really short sentences,'' said Legow, a 25-year-old Liberty native and a Peace Corps volunteer who, since last summer, has taught English as a second language in Kyrgyzstan. ''I'd ask them to read it. And they'd just kind of look at me like, 'What are you talking about?'''
Photo special to the Tribune Chronicle
Ben Ligow poses with his students in front of a “thank you” message in their school in Kyrgystan.
After a couple of weeks, Legow noticed something in the students that he had experienced himself as a child: squinting.
''It just kind of hit me,'' Legow said. ''They can't actually see the board.''
In August, Legow mentioned the problem to his father, local attorney Elliot Legow, during one of their weekly telephone conversations. Elliot Legow, in turn, mentioned it to his friend, Dr. Richard Shapiro, a retired ophthalmologist from Warren.
''He told me a lot of kids were squinting,'' Shapiro said, ''which is a sign of near-sightedness.''
Shapiro, a long-time Lions Club member, decided he wanted to help. So he enlisted the aid of the Warren Lions Club and started working on a plan to send new glasses for Legow's students in Kyrgyzstan.
Kyrgyzstan is a landlocked, former-Soviet republic located in Central Asia. The mountainous country of 5.4 million people is quite poor; the average resident's income is $2,200 annually, according to the International Monetary Fund.
Legow initially determined that he needed about 30 pairs of glasses for his students and a few teaching colleagues. Some of the students knew their prescriptions but didn't have them filled, Legow said. Others had to have their prescriptions estimated. Shapiro helped guide Legow in making those estimations.
Once Shapiro knew how many glasses he needed and what the prescriptions were, he started looking for companies to donate frames and lenses.
Central Optical in Youngstown provided 50 pairs of lenses at a nominal expense, Shapiro said. Three companies donated 150 frames, including the Charmant Group, from New Jersey; Marchon Eyewear, from New York; and Tura, also from New York. Ron's Optical, from California, donated eyeglass cases.
The gathering and packaging was coordinated by Amber Downing, manager at RD Optical in Warren. The Warren Lions Club underwrote the expenses, including shipping.
One problem with shipping to small foreign countries is the possibility that packages will be opened and items stolen, Shapiro said. To help counter that, the package included an inventory and was wrapped ''very well,'' he said.
The glasses shipped out about two weeks ago, and Shapiro estimates it should take another four weeks for them to arrive in Kyrgyzstan.
There are no eye doctors in the village of 3,000 people where Legow teaches, though there is a physician.
''Anything beyond fairly basic medical care, they have to go pretty far out of their way,'' Legow said. The closest city to Legow's school is about an hour away.
There is a need in Kyrgyzstan for eye doctors, dentists and other social service providers, Legow said. Beyond just improving their vision and their performance in school, he hopes the glasses will help his students think about helping others and helping their country.
''They'll be able to see the world around them and experience the world around them in a way they wouldn't otherwise be able,'' Legow said. ''Some people helped them and maybe they'll be able to help other people in their own community and beyond the borders of their everyday lives.''