When the California-based nonprofit Free Wheelchair Mission gifted each woman her own wheelchair, the siblings could finally make the yards-long journey to reunite face to face after 15 years.
Receiving the gift of mobility is a beautiful, empowering experience for these Chilean sisters, as well as 13-year-old Ma Hao in China, 91-year-old Fidel in Mexico and nearly a million other people with disabilities helped through the Free Wheelchair Mission’s generous work.
With a doctorate in engineering and years of experience in the biomedical field, Don Schoendorfer founded his humanitarian organization in 2001 to deliver durable, inexpensive wheelchairs—at no cost—to those less fortunate in the world.
The World Health Organization estimates that 100 million people in developing countries are in critical need of a wheelchair but lack the resources to obtain one.
For a countless number of the planet’s poor, birth defects, land mines, disease, malnutrition, unclean water and other untreated health disorders lead to deformity and restricted movement.
Often, those with challenged mobility must be carried everywhere. Others are left to crawl on the ground or remain secluded in a back bedroom. Isolation, depression and hopelessness add to the struggle to even stand up, let alone take a step.
Throughout 93 countries to date, from desolate villages to bustling urban centers, Free Wheelchair Mission has transformed the lives of those who cannot walk.
By partnering with organizations and individuals, Free Wheelchair Mission is on target to reach its one-millionth wheelchair recipient soon.
Right at Home, a leader in professional home care services for seniors and adults with a disability, is teaming up with Free Wheelchair Mission to help extend the gift of mobility to those who need it most.
During Right at Home’s annual meeting, funds were collected to send 1,650 wheelchairs to children and adults in need throughout the world.
“We are excited to partner with Free Wheelchair Mission, because every day we see how lack of mobility affects the quality of life for the clients we serve,” said Gregg Balbera, president of Right at Home Nassau Suffolk.
“For those living with a disability in less-resourced nations, a wheelchair opens doors to an education, a job, independence and social interaction,” said Balbera. “Mobility encourages renewed self-confidence and hope.”
A gift of $80 will manufacture, ship, assemble and deliver one wheelchair anywhere in the world.
Specifically designed to withstand rugged terrain in inaccessible communities, the wheelchairs feature common parts that can be easily maintained and repaired on-site, ensuring reliable, worry-free use for years to come.
“Volunteers work with teams in-country to assemble and give away hundreds of wheelchairs at a time,” Balbera explained. “Many of us with Right at Home are eager to participate in one of these ‘Vision Trips’ to see the exuberant joy on the faces of children to aging adults who will be mobile again, or for the first time ever.”
Balbera shared the inspiring story of Aishat from a Nigerian community where those with disabilities are not always treated well.
When Aishat contracted polio at a young age, her overwhelmed father could not face caring for a child with a disability. He abandoned Aishat and her mother. Sadly, Aishat’s mother died, but the child’s grandmother stepped in. The grandmother sold her only possession—a canopy that she rented out—to pay for Aishat to attend school.
The compassionate woman carried her grandchild to school and one day heard a radio announcement about free medical treatment and wheelchairs. Aishat received one of those Free Wheelchair Mission wheelchairs.
At age 7, Aishat could finally get around on her own. Overjoyed, her grandmother shouted, “This is a life-changing donation. Now my girl will stop crawling on the ground!”
Together, Free Wheelchair Mission and Right at Home are honored to collaborate and raise funds to provide the gift of mobility in Vietnam, Cambodia, Romania, Ukraine and everywhere in between.
“It’s quite an experience when you actually show up at somebody’s home, especially when they are not expecting you, because they have been waiting for a wheelchair for maybe 25 years,” Schoendorfer noted.
“You put them in the wheelchair and instantly they gain this dignity from sitting up straight,” he said. “Human beings have such an innate need and desire to move independently.”
“When you rob them of this, you take away so much of their humanity,” Schoendorfer added. “We need your help to get your brothers and sisters up off the ground. It’s that simple.”