Dr. James and Ellen
Weyrich of Montesano have formed EyeCare WeCare, a
non-profit organization that brings free eye glasses and
exams to impoverished villages in the Philippines.
By Dee Anne Shaw
When James Weyrich was growing up in Montesano, his
vision was so poor without his eyeglasses that he once
tackled his own teammate during a high school football
Then he got his first pair
of contact lenses. "I had a huge correction," he says.
It was an eye-opening experience. The quality of his
life improved so dramatically that he knew then and
there that he wanted to bring the same experiences to
The 1962 Monte grad became
an optometric physician - an eye doctor. In 1971, after
completing his service in the Navy, he started
practicing in the Yakima area. He returned to Montesano
in 1999 when the family home became too much for his
father, the late Heston Weyrich, to take care of on his
Today, Weyrich and his wife, Ellen, lease space at
Wal-Mart in Aberdeen where they operate the Vision
Clinic. And they live in the same home where Weyrich
grew up - the 1909 Hewett House on North Talbot Street.
"I'm loving it now," he says
of being back home. "Growing up I was like so many of
us---I couldn't get out of town fast enough and now I
don't know why I ever left."
For the past five years the Weyrichs have been
developing the EyeCare WeCare Foundation, a nonprofit,
501c3 corporation that is bringing the gift of better
vision to people in remote villages in the Philippines -
Ellen's native country.
The couple met when Weyrich,
who has volunteered his services to Christian
organizations since 1990, was on a Mercy Ship mission in
Mercy Ships are exactly what
they sound like- Christian-sponsored vessels that visit
remote areas of the world bringing various medical
experts to poor people.
Weyrich was on a mission in
Africa in 1994 when the village he was serving was
visited by a Mercy Ship. " It kind of stayed in my mind
and it kind of just set on my heart to maybe do that
someday," he says the same day he mentioned to his
pastor that he felt called to find out more about the
Mercy Ships, a packet arrive in the mail that there was
a need for eye doctors aboard a ship that would be
visiting the Philippines.
That's how he came to be on
a vision ship and cross paths with a smart, pretty young
woman could make red tape disappear because she worked
for people at the highest levels of government, but who
also seemed to know just about every barefoot villager
who came to the traveling clinic seeking better sight.
The ship sailed without
Weyrich, who surprised himself by being so smitten.
After a divorce and settling in with his dad at
Montesano, he hadn't really planned to fall in love. "I
wasn't looking for a wife," he says "I went over to
serve." But he made eight trips to the Philippines in
2000, both to continue bringing eye care to those the
Mercy Ship didn't have to help and to court Ellen.
"It's going to be years
before one of those ships is in the Philippines again,"
he says. The rules of courtship in the Philippines "are
really hard." Weyrich adds. He was not allowed to take
her anywhere unless they were chaperoned.
Ellen, a Roman Catholic
surprised herself too. "In never dreamed I would marry a
foreigner!" She laughs. She remembers Dr. Weyrich as
being "very foreign" on first acquaintance as she helped
orchestrate the Mercy Ships clinics in those early days.
but as they became good friends "I can tell it is God's
plan." She said.
They were married twice in
2001. In January in the states and April in the
Philippines. Their religions may be different, but they
share the same vision, so to speak, to use their
God-given talents to help those who otherwise would not
have access to eye care,
The result was creation of
EyeCare WeCare Foundation in 2001. Its board of
directors includes eye doctors and eye care
professionals, including former Montesano resident Rick
Baxter, an optometric physician who practices in
The Weyrichs say they've
learned through the trial and error of their previous
mission work how to maximize the generosity of those who
give and how to maximize the time of those willing to
For example, many missions
organize all the supplies they need and travel to the
site with their equipment and supplies in tow. But that
requires trips through customs and in the case of vision
care, the equipment is delicate and doesn't ship well.
There also can be long delays at boarder crossings. "You
can lose so much time if things get held up at customs."
Ellen Weyrich says.
Through EyeCare WeCare, the
Weyrichs organize the supplies and ship them in advance
to the Philippines. Her Knowledge and background in the
Filipina government has been a godsend.
The first shipment went to
the Philippines in August 2004- a 20-foot
container full of used eyeglasses, medical and optical
equipment. Many of the eyeglasses came to them through
the Kiwanis, conducts an active second-hand eyeglass
Under the auspices of the
new foundation, they hired and trained an individual to
evaluate and sort the donated eyeglasses so that they
would be ready upon arrival of eye doctors and other eye
The equipment, which can be
quite delicate, is stored by EyeCare WeCare in the
Philippines, but sometimes the storage is less than
Ideal, Ellen Weyrich said, such as an old house no one
is using, an empty classroom at a school. "wherever we
One of their goals is to
raise funds for a mobile eye-care van (think Bookmobile
or Smile Mobile) so the delicate equipment is portable
without having to be packed and unpacked at each
village. Such a vehicle will make it possible for
EyeCare givers to visit the remotest-of-remote villages,
the couple says.
"We want to go to the people
because many of the villagers simply have no money to
even get to a clinic," Ellen Weyrich says. That's if
their village is even served by a bus.
Another goal is to someday
build an optical laboratory in the Philippines to
manufacture eyeglasses for people whose prescription
needs can't be filled from the donated eyeglass supply.
It took several years to get
the non-profit organization fully up and running and
sanctioned by the IRS. The first full-blown EyeCare
WeCare vision mission was conducted last July. Weyrich
say more than 100 patients a day.
In January, the second
mission was completed and they're heralding it as a
huge success. "We worked out all the bugs this time and
it went off without a hitch," Again more than 100
patients a day were seen.
Over the six days they
conducted clinics on Negros Occidental Island, more that
700 indigents were seen for eye examinations, 674 pairs
of donated spectacles were dispensed, 50 bottles of eye
medicine were dispensed and 84 patients were referred to
participation local doctors for cataract surgery.
But the highlight of the
January trip was able to do for Myra Amar. They Weyrichs
had met her the previous summer when she was guided into
the first Eye-Care clinic by her mother.
The doctor could see right
away that eyeglasses weren't going to solve Myra's
problem. She had been blind since the birth of her
fourth child, and he suspected traumatic cataracts. It
doesn't matter how many free pairs of eyeglasses you
have to give away if the patient can't see at all.
Weyrich set about trying to
find a qualified specialist willing to help and even
accompanied her on visits to specialists. They Located Dr. Miquel Sarabia, a Filipina ophthalmologist. He agreed to
try surgery on one of her eyes but couldn't promise
anything. The surgery was performed in January.
Dr. Sarabia called the Weyrichs, who by this time were back in Montesano, to
report that when the bandages came off the young mother,
was jumping up and down and hugging everyone in the room
because she could see again and would be able to watch
her children grow up.
"Our main focus is free eye
glasses and eye exams," Weyrich said. " But when
someone like Myra comes along it gives everyone joy to
be able to help. It is a blessing."
Instead of a man on a
mission, Weyrich has become a man with a mission.
"God has put something in my
heart for the Filipino people," he said.
The EyeCare WeCare
Foundation operates out of the Weyrich Home in Montesano. For more
write to 304 N. Talbot St., Montesano, WA 98562 or call