Wheelchair recipients in Africa
Wheelchair recipients in Africa
Lions Club of Harare
Wheelchair recipients in Africa

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP: >>> In Tanzania, along “Mosquito’s River,” Conservation Foundation Trust works with local tribal communities to reach disabled children, adults, and elderly in an area seldom visited by aid organizations. Traditional rural trade routes meet in areas where multiple Tribes have settled. In villages like Mto Wa Bbu, like any major cultural hub, people from all stations of life do business together and take part in caring for one another. >>> Lions Club of Harare West presents wheelchairs to individuals and institutions in need of wheelchair mobility. >>> Recipients and their families gather to celebrate the gift of a wheelchair. >>> Lots of excited and happy recipients take a moment to thank the Lions for their efforts to assist the people of Zimbabwe. >>>

For more than 20 years Wheelchair Foundation has been providing wheelchairs to partner organizations whose specialty is to reach deep into rural areas not frequented by other aid organizations.

Mto Wa Mbu is a small village a little over 75 miles due west from Arusha, Tanzania. The name “Mto Wa Mbu” means “Mosquitos’ River.” Here locals grow bananas and host tourists who pass through on their treks to Lake Manyara, Ngorongoro Crater, and Serengeti National Park. The populace is made up of members of some 150 unique tribes with nearly as many languages spoken.

Conservation Foundation Trust (CFT) is committed to supporting communities in and around wildlife reserves and protected areas. The community support is part of a partnership with the villages to conserve the natural resources and ensure that they receive tangible benefits from the sustainable use of wildlife in the protected areas. On behalf of Wheelchair Foundation, CFT was able to distribute 20 wheelchairs to the disabled people of Mto Wa Mbu bordering Monduli Juu Open Area.

South of Tanzania, in Zimbabwe, the Lions Club of Harare West has been a wheelchair distribution partner helping to reach the disabled near Harare. Although grateful for the privilege to serve their community through assistance rendered through the receipt of wheelchairs, their work has revealed greater demand than they have supplied. Economic constraints within the country and the early effects of the global pandemic may very well continue to increase the demand for wheelchairs.

As with many distribution efforts, in the process of identifying individuals in need of a wheelchair, when the word spreads, suddenly the demand rises above the number of wheelchairs available. Many partner organizations maintain lists of people in need, in the hope that more wheelchairs will arrive. In Africa, there is always a need. It may just take more effort to reach those waiting for relief.

We are thankful for our partners, their families, and our donors, all of who keep making our work possible.

During this pandemic, we continue to be inspired by the determination of our amazing partners and donors that have made it their mission to continue alongside ours and provide mobility to individuals that need it but may not have the means to attain it. Below is a story from Glen Mather from Chair The Love, one of our partner organizations out of Florida that recalls their recent distribution to Mexico and not just the struggles they were faced with but the blessings they were given.

youngboyinwheelchairAmeca, Mexico

“Our plan started with 22 donors traveling to Guadalajara, Mexico to distribute 280 wheelchairs in the surrounding area.  Due to the ravages and fear of Covid-19, our traveling group narrowed to nine.  After checking the infection rates, and realizing that their state of Jalisco had half the rate of infections than did our home state of Florida – we decided to go ahead.

The blessing of giving was never more apparent than the experience of our trip to central Mexico.  We had never delivered to this area of the country, so everything was a new experience to the Rotarians that helped arrange for the logistics and locate the neediest recipients.  What transpired was one of the most impactful distributions of the dozen or more I have been a part of.

Our hosts obsessed with our comfort and were anxious that we were able to experience what their region had to offer.  Cathedrals dating from the 1500s, colonial cities, lakeside towns, and modern skyscrapers, and an amazing Mariachi band were all part of our visit, but the central point, as always, were the distributions.  They provided a luxurious motor coach to make the hours upon hours of traveling the most comfortable possible.

Five separate distributions spread over three days provided an incredibly emotional experience.  The youngest recipient was three, and the oldest was Margarita at 101.  The eldest asked if we could come to her home, as she now could make fresh tortillas for us, now she had her first wheelchair.

In the agricultural town of Ameca, we met Angel, a young man of 32 years old.  He stood out for a couple of reasons – his “Iron Maiden” Tee shirt, a plethora of tattoos, and infectious energy.  He had lost his legs in a motorcycle accident six months earlier, and Chair the Love and the Wheelchair Foundation provided him his first wheels since that day.  He now saw his life-changing in an incredible way.  He could return to work, hang out with his friends, and be part of the community.   His wife, a beautiful lady with a smile almost as big as Angel’s, was so happy that she would be freed up from worrying about getting him to the doctor and out of the house.

In Ajijic, a magical town on Lake Chapala, Jalisco, a twenty-two-year-old who lost a leg to diabetes, started popping wheelies a few minutes after being seated in his new red chair, and his wife commented that they now could go dancing together!

When we stood at our final event, facing 86 wonderful people, the attendees were asked to stand when possible, for the playing of the Mexican national anthem – my most emotional moment happened.  There on the front row was an 82-year-old man, whose legs had had multiple surgeries – pushing against the armrests of his new chair, struggling to stand.  With help from his daughter, he rose, and stood ram-rod straight and proud, with tears streaming down his face, hand on his heart.

This was followed by the singing of the US Anthem – with only nine of us to fill the large gymnasium with joy in our hearts.  It never sounded or felt better, or more right.  Two countries, both geographically in North America – united in a way that politics could never accomplish, joined together with love and thankfulness that will never be forgotten.  God indeed blessed America this weekend – both the US and Mexico.

I cannot thank enough the hundreds of donors that made this trip possible and would encourage each of you to find your own way to give the gift of mobility.  I hope that at least once, you can come with us on a future distribution trip to feel the emotions of what your gift means to the entire family.  In their own words, “muchas gracias con todo nuestro corazon”.”

Back To Vietnam

Dear Friends,

One year ago I joined a group of our Vietnam Veterans on a wheelchair trip to Vietnam where I saw old adversaries become new friends and that simple acts of kindness make the world a better place for both the givers and receivers. Let’s keep these thoughts in mind as we enter the holiday season. Below are a couple of brief recollections from that trip from two Veterans that traveled with us, Joe Callaway and Gary Pforr.

Joseph Callaway entered the army as a private in 1965 and, after being commissioned as an officer through Infantry OCS (Officer Candidate School), served in Vietnam from December 1966 until July 1968 as an infantry platoon leader with the 9th Division, a combat advisor to the first Thai regiment deployed to Vietnam, and as a staff officer with the 5th Special Forces. Joe is also a member of the Vietnam Veterans of Diablo Valley, and his peers supported him in his decision to return to Vietnam 54 years later.

Joe recalls his evening in Hue,

“Particular noteworthy was the fabulously memorable dinner we had with about 20 former NVA (North Vietnamese Army) soldiers that started solemn and stiff but evolved (after voluminous beer consumption) into riotous revelry! Singing, beer can crushing, handshaking, and hugging between soldiers who once wanted to kill one another. Most poignant, but memorable, was when one former NVA soldier told one of our group, ‘I’m glad I didn’t kill you.’ Our member responded, ‘I’m also glad you didn’t kill me.’”

Dinner with NVA Vets in Hue City

Gary Pforr, another VVDV member traveling with the group observed,

“Participation in the distribution of wheelchairs by the Wheelchair Foundation was the most emotionally moving experience of our journey. Despite Vietnam’s widespread economic development and improved standard of living for most, it’s evident that many physically and mentally disabled persons, along with their parental caregivers, have been left behind and live in poverty. Some middle-aged parents transported their adult children to the distribution events literally on their backs. The appreciation and gratefulness they expressed after receiving their wheelchairs were emotionally heart wrenching.”

Thank you for your support and for making us better global ambassadors,

David Behring

Even as the pandemic of Covid-19 continues throughout the world, with the help and generosity of our amazing partners and co-sponsors Bob Bitter and Phil Benner from Rotary District 5220 out of Pleasanton California, we were able to send a container of wheelchairs to Bolivia. We received the following letter and images from ChiChi Mendez from RC Santa Cruz de la Sierra.

“Dear Eva,

I attach these photos of the delivery of 10 wheelchairs in the town of San José de Chiquitos, which is just over 240 km from our city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra.

For this trip, our Rotary companions Maritza Céspedes and Susana Alarcón traveled by car on Friday 14, accompanied by a friend María Teresa Saucedo, it is a quality road on the route to the border with Brazil, it is the area that we call Chiquitania and the one that suffered the great fires of last year, along with the Brazilian Amazon.

In all the towns that suffered forest fires we have and are delivering wheelchairs, in several of them there are Rotary clubs, in this town of San José we formed a club about 10 years ago, but it lasted only 5 years, today we have the possibility of recovering it . It is not easy due to the pandemic but there are always volunteer partners who make the trip to share the delivery at all times.

The pandemic crisis continues strongly, we have not yet reached the plateau moment. Even with these 12 days of blockades that we have had by the government militants who escaped in November 2019, it has been very hard especially for the hospitalized patients because oxygen could not get to the hospitals that needed it, we trust in our Lord, may we have more peace of mind in the remainder of the year and we can hold a quiet national election on October 18.

We trust that at some point safe travel will resume and our friends from Pleasanton and Madera will be able to visit our country again.

Greetings to you and best wishes that you are very well together with your family, let’s continue taking good care of each other.”

Chichi mendez
R.C. Santa Cruz de la Sierra

Rotary - Monterrey MX 2020

In the last week of February, earlier this year, we returned to Monterrey, Mexico, for a wheelchair distribution and other “hands-on” community service.  On Friday, we painted a Senior Center for Alzheimer’s patients (“celery white” was the color they chose), planted five trees, and presented three people with wheelchairs. One of them was a polio survivor, which made the day even more powerful.  Because of the efforts of Rotary, and the Gates Foundation, we don’t really see any young people with polio anymore, and most people today don’t realize how devastating disease this was a half-century ago.

Along with about 20 other Rotarians from Northern California, we interacted with Rotarians from many of the Monterrey area’s 18 Rotary Clubs.  Their hospitality is legendary and it was so fun to look at their projects and enjoy Members Night Out dinners (including a restaurant known for its goat or “Cabrito” dishes) as we continue the “Amigos Para Siempre”, “Friends Forever” philosophy we adopted 17-years-ago with the Monterrey Rotarians.  It has been so rewarding for us to partner on so many projects.