WEST PARIS — Ernie Yap’s vision helps rural Malaysians focus.

Yap moved from Kuching, Sarawak, East Malaysia, to the U.S. in 1968.

“Almost 50 years ago now,” he said.

The former nursing home administrator graduated from college and found work in Nashville, Tenn., and then moved to Georgia, where he bought a Western Auto franchise.

“I bought it at the wrong time and it wasn’t successful, with big retailers like Wal-Mart coming in,” Yap said.

He moved to Maine.


“I wasn’t sure what I was going to do, but I was acquainted with military auctions,” Yap said.

He made trips to Pease Air Force Base in Portsmouth, N.H., Brunswick Naval Air Station, and Fort Devens, Mass., buying used tires.

“From that, I fell into the metal business,” Yap said.

He now owns West Paris Metal Recycling, which occupies the former feldspar mill and surrounding grounds at the end of Maple Street.

“I started this business, and it kind of evolved,” Yap said. “Having a mission has been in my mind for a long time. Before I couldn’t afford it, but (later) I was doing reasonably well in this business.”

He said his initial mission trips were to build schools and churches or to conduct evangelist meetings in far-flung locations such as India, Zambia, Nicaragua and Chile.


Yap met an American woman living in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, who told him there was a great need for help in that part of the world.

“I said to myself, ‘Why am I doing all those other mission trips in the other parts of the world? I should be doing some stuff where my roots are,'” he said.

That’s when Yap got the idea to distribute common drugstore-type reading glasses as his personal mission.

“So I bought 600 pairs of reading glasses,” Yap said. “They are not very expensive — I pay 65 cents (a pair). Previously, it was only 50 cents. So that’s how it evolved, and I take off every winter for three to four weeks.”

Yap actually tested distributing reading glasses a year ago in Haiti, but for most of February this year, he took a vacation back home to Malaysia and spent about a week in about 10 rural villages in the state of Sarawak, doing the same thing.

“A lot of people still live in longhouses,” Yap said. “One longhouse that we went to has about 38 families, one after another under one roof.”


Yap emphasizes that the reading glasses he distributes at no cost are all brand new. He takes along a simple eye chart for aging villagers, in order to determine which magnification matches their eyesight. But he also has a second test.

“A lot of them are illiterate,” Yap said, “so I use the needle and thread. We put the glasses on, and once they can see the hole in the needle, that’s the pair of glasses they need.”

Yap has already planned next year’s trip.

“I just got an email,” Yap said. “The (sender) said, ‘Can you come back? We need your help here again.’ This time, we’ll be a lot farther than the city where I came from. These places will be about 300 to 400 miles into the country.”

For Ernie Yap, the road back home to Malaysia is paved with scrap metal — and there are a lot of good intentions. 

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