Feifke, a South African native, has lived in the United States for 22 years. He has built up a successful optometry practice in Burlington and lives in neighboring Lexington. A decade ago, he wanted to give something back.
As he prepared to run his first of seven Boston Marathons in 2001, he began raising money for missions by teams of optometrists to Central America and elsewhere to offer free eye care -- and to give instant vision to many patients who have been legally blind all their lives.
With his seventh Boston Marathon on Monday, Feifke hopes to pass the $25,000 mark in his fundraising for the New England chapter of VOSH -- or Volunteer Optometric Services to Humanity. The New England branch, known as VOSH-ONE, is among 33 chapters worldwide. (Disclosure: Derek is my optometrist.)
Feifke, who turns 51 next month, does more than raise money. He has taken part in seven missions since 2001 offering volunteer eye clinics in remote villages in Nicaragua and Guatemala -- sometimes traveling by canoe to reach the most isolated communities, where many people have never seen any eye care provider.
"So many people who are legally blind just need glasses," Feifke says, resulting from problems such as extreme myopia and hyperopia. "They
just want to be able to read their Bibles, or mend their fishing nets so they
can provide for their family."
He described one life-changing moment:
"A 54-year-old gentleman came in who said he was told his whole life that he was blind. He was a minus-13. Wherever he went, he was told nothing could be done. He was told he was too stupid to go to school."
We put these glasses on his face, and to see the emotion when he could suddenly see was unbelievable. Tears started coming out of his eyes. His grandson was with him, and he started crying too. It was like a miracle."
The New England teams typically travel with several optometrists and several more support staffers on these missions, once or twice a year. They work with community groups to spread the word in advance, and they treat 1,000 to 1,500 patients per mission. "We start working at the crack of dawn and work til we’re done," Feifke says. Each day they move to a new temporary clinic location.
One special pleasure has been taking his three boys with him. Steven, 18, Benjamin, 17, and Gideon, 13, have all made trips. "It makes a remarkable experience for me each year that much more special."
VOSH International dates to 1972, when an optometrist in Kansas City began collecting discarded glasses for people in the Third World, and its 80 to 90 one- to two-week missions each year treat more than 100,000 people annually around the world. The New England branch is purely a volunteer organization, so the money all goes to the missions and to support projects as far afield as Afghanistan. Feifke is a past president. The current head is Dr. Lee Lerner, who has a practice in Waltham.
Feifke, who grew up in Johannesburg, has run 13 marathons in all, and qualified for Boston with a time of 3 hours, 25 minutes, his best ever in a marathon. He hopes for a sub 3:45 run on Monday, and says, "If I can keep it under four hours for the next few years, I’ll
About this blog
About James F. SmithJim Smith came home to his native Boston in 2002 to become the Boston Globe's foreign editor after spending 22 years abroad. He was previously based in Buenos Aires and Mexico City for the LA Times, and in Johannesburg, Tokyo and The Hague for the AP. In 2007 he became the Globe's national political editor, coordinating presidential campaign coverage. He is a Yale graduate, and has an MBA. He is married to Maxine Hart and has two sons, Matthew and Daniel.
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