The following story was written by Jody Morgan of Alamo Today & Danville Today News. The original article can be found here.

The Wheelchair Foundation recently completed a third distribution trip to Vietnam with several members of the Viet Nam Veterans of Diablo Valley (VNVDV) taking the opportunity to return for the first time to places where they served during the Vietnam War. The mission brought the gift of mobility to 500 individuals of all ages and renewed hope to their caregivers and families. The journey enabled veterans to deliver tangible measures of good to a country where they once were tasked with disseminating destruction.

Dennis Giacovelli served in the Mekong Delta region in 1970 on Navy gunboats called PBR and STABs. During a reunion with his boat group, he described his plans to go back to Vietnam with the Wheelchair Foundation. He reports, “Their reaction was of surprise, shock, and disbelief that I would even consider returning.” Their response dampened his enthusiasm, but prior to embarking he says, “Hopefully, I will see this as a wonderful vacation with a heavy dose of giving back to those in need. I am sure the idea that we were the ones who caused these ailments and that the wheelchairs are a ‘drop in the bucket’ will be ever-present.”

Gary Pforr served in the Northern I Corps 1969, 1970, and 1971. Before leaving on the Wheelchair Foundation trip, he comments, “Despite my apprehension about seeing old places, it’s kind of a compulsive desire. Veterans’ and civilians’ memories of those times and places and events are not healed or closed – they’re managed.”

Joe Calloway’s 2004 book Mekong First Light describes coming of age in the process of going from Private to Captain in three years and serving as an infantry platoon leader in Vietnam, Queens Cobra advisor to two Thai Infantry companies, and in the 5th Special Forces Base Camp Defense and Special Projects. Asked what motivated him to travel back with the Wheelchair Foundation, he writes, “Doing something constructive and helpful for a country where we did so much damage is why I’m going. Healing and closure is a myth… going there is not going to eliminate the horrible experiences and memories.”

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David Behring talks with Vietnamese orphanage teacher fluent in English.
She was disabled as a child. Photo courtesy of Wheelchair Foundation.

Enthusiastic accounts by VNVDV members who traveled on previous Wheelchair Foundation Vietnam tours encouraged members to overcome their misgivings. Jerry Yahiro, VNVDV Past-President, spoke in a 2015 the positive effect of going back twice on wheelchair distribution trips. “Prior to 2006 and 2012, about every day something would remind me of Vietnam. Now, I can go days without thinking about Vietnam, however, it is still there.” He noted, “The Vietnamese have accommodated better. To them, it was a war of independence. They differentiate individuals from politics.”

Wheelchair Foundation President David Behring orchestrated the trip to alternate wheelchair distributions with orphanage visits, provide time to revisit historic sites, and leave free time for relaxation. The itinerary included a dinner that brought veterans from opposing sides together in an evening of harmonious exchanges of times remembered and events graciously dismissed. Although some of the 500 wheelchairs went to remote locations, the impact of giving 160 wheelchairs a day to grateful recipients unable to afford the means of moving about independently proved to be one of the most rewarding aspects of the journey for returning veterans as well as others in the group who did not serve in Vietnam.

Jon Robbins, who served in Vietnam in the Northern II Corps from August 1968-August 1969, was interested in seeing the country’s development in the last 50 years. He remarks, “You never learn unless you get into the people and their lives today.” The trip gave him a chance to learn directly from the staff at the orphanages visited their tremendous dedication and witness the lifestyle of the children they serve. He was greatly moved by the genuine gratitude expressed by wheelchair recipients as well as residents and staff at the orphanages.

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Jon Robbins with orphans in Hue City. Photo courtesy of Jon Robbins.

Jon writes, “In the City of Hue, at the Chuong Trinh orphanage, wheelchairs were distributed. On arrival, I met some young children who greeted me with their wonderful smiles. They sang and danced in a simple performance that was so rewarding to me. Later their stories were told. These children have received a new direction in life, and they show their gratitude without saying a word.”

The orphanages visited are all privately funded with no government support. Gary explains, “The 30-50 children located at the Children’s Shelter in Hue receive training to enable them to achieve self-sufficiency. The shelter is supported by the Friends of Hue Foundation, based in San Jose. Approximately 30-40 abandoned children living in the Ha Cau Orphanage in Hanoi attend public schooling during the day and are nurtured by 74-year-old Mrs. Tran Thuc Ninh, who is assisted by four dedicated caregivers.”

To the query on what he found most rewarding about the journey, Pforr responds, “Seeing the positive changes in a country that was once devastated by war was most rewarding to me as a Vietnam vet. Where undernourished grim-faced peasants in black pajamas once tilled their fields with water buffalo, healthy and vibrant hard-working people dressed in western attire are now engaged in mechanized agriculture as well as in a variety of commercial and industrial livelihoods. Red soil moonscape areas near the DMZ that were once pock-marked with shell holes are now under heavy agriculture.”

Calloway sees Saigon, now called Ho Chi Minh City, as “a vibrant dynamic society teeming with vigor and resourcefulness.” The people are youthful. Seventy percent of the country’s population was born after the war. Perhaps that accounts for their willingness to welcome the group of Americans. Joe explains, “It is incredible how these people have forgiven us for killing three million of its citizens, poisoning millions more, and then they just moved on with life. They seem to harbor no ill will or animosity whatsoever.” Joe, however, finds photographs of deformed infants with birth defects caused by the Agent Orange defoliant disbursed by American combatants an unforgettable reminder that damage done to the landscape continued to impact the people of Vietnam long after the war ended.

“It was a very sad and humbling experience. Many of these children are disabled they believe due to Agent Orange still left in the ground,” Calloway concludes concerning the first wheelchair distribution. Mothers brought children from remote locations. He estimates 500 people gathered to clap and cheer. The American contingent pushed each of the 160 wheelchair recipients individually out of the building. Pforr adds, “Despite Viet Nam’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.”

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Josh Routh (center) at Ha Cau Orphanage in Hanoi. Photo courtesy of Gary Pforr.

Veteran Wheelchair Foundation travelers Don and Josh Routh had never been to Vietnam. Born with Cerebral Palsy, Josh enjoys demonstrating how empowering a wheelchair can be. His father Don encourages parents of differentially-abled children, recounting how his perseverance enabled Josh to become an independent, highly productive adult rather than the quadriplegic incapable of speech his doctors originally envisioned. Impressed by reactions of Vietnam veterans to their first wheelchair distributions and orphanage visits, Don especially enjoyed witnessing their encounter with former enemies in Hue where some of the bloodiest fighting occurred during the 1968 Tet Offensive. “The dinner with Viet Cong Veterans was a surreal experience. It didn’t take long for barriers to break down and veterans from both sides to embrace a common theme of peace and fellowship.”

Calloway admits boundless beer consumption helped cement “deep-seated camaraderie and mutual respect” as the evening progressed. “It was indeed an inspirational and truly bonding experience for guys who were some 50 years ago trying to kill one another. There were no harbored grievances, angst, or hostility.” He continues, “I watched, engulfed in an event of overwhelming goodwill. Who would have thought this would evolve into such a raucous gathering of former enemies?”

Summing up the benefits of the journey, Joe writes, “Returning to a place where I brought so much destruction, structural and human damage, and then being able to participate 50 plus years later in events so positive with a group of admirable people so deep in compassion and character was truly inspirational and emotionally rewarding. A true field soldier will never find closure as combat life is too brutally mean-spirited and tragic, but one can find some relief in this mission as I did.”

For information about the Wheelchair Foundation, visit www.wheelchairfoundation.org. To learn more about the Viet Nam Veterans of Diablo Valley, visit www.vnvdv.org.

Jeff and David BehringDear Friends,

As many of you are probably aware, we sadly lost the founder and visionary of the Wheelchair Foundation, Ken Behring, in late June. My father launched the Foundation nineteen years ago in order to provide mobility to people across the globe. He met with countless world leaders to enlist their support in helping the physically disabled in their countries. Ken was largely responsible for making it possible for over 1,100,000 people to receive the special gift of a wheelchair.

My brother Jeff and I accompanied our father on many distribution trips and were always inspired by his compassion and dedication. We saw him in action with President Vicente Fox and his wife giving away 800 wheelchairs in a long but emotional day in Mexico City. Several years later my mother, Jeff and I joined him in Tangshan, China for the largest distribution in one day in history- 1000 wheelchairs! After the dignitary speeches were finished, Ken stepped off the stage and proceeded to “meet and greet” every recipient and their families, which was one of his trademarks. We knew that would take an entire day, so each of us divided up the crowd into quadrants and took responsibility for greeting 250 people. My father also wanted to teach his grandchildren about helping others and took them on wheelchair distributions to Mexico during Christmas and China during Thanksgiving. Ken felt that it was paramount to instill the philanthropic spirit into kids at an early age and he always loved to hear about school children raising funds to help those less fortunate.

My brother Jeff and I, along with our dedicated staff and volunteers at the Wheelchair Foundation, pledge to carry on Ken Behring’s mission of helping as many physically disabled people as possible. We have achieved a tremendous amount of success but there are still 99 million people out there that need the gift of mobility. We hope you can join us in continuing my father’s dream.

Give the Gift of Mobility this holiday season by dedicating gifts to your friends and family and sponsoring wheelchairs in the name, honor or memory of someone you love. For your donation of $150, you will receive a beautiful presentation folder with a photo of a recipient, and a personalized certificate thanking or honoring that special person in your life.

Donations in any dollar amount help change the lives of those who are less fortunate and in need of mobility.

With your gift of $100 or more, we will send you a red triple function pen with flashlight and stylus to remind you throughout the year of your generous donation.

As an additional token of our appreciation, with your donation of $500 or more, we will include our aluminum constructed, Tomahawk Safety Flashlight.

No shopping, wrapping or shipping! Simply call us directly at 877.378.3839, donate online through our website (www.wheelchairfoundation.org), or use the enclosed envelope to donate by mail. Please make your donations by December 10th to allow sufficient time for us to prepare and mail your customized presentation folders.

Happy Holidays!

Sincerely,

David E. Behring
President

Article By Jody Morgan of the Alamo Today & Danville Today News

The Wheelchair Foundation, officially established by Ken Behring on June 13, 2000 (his 72nd birthday), has delivered 1,107,349 wheelchairs free of charge to individuals worldwide in over 155 countries who have no means of affording the wheelchair they need. In developing countries, an estimated 90% of children, teens, and adults who require a wheelchair are unable to acquire one. From the Heart, the Wheelchair Foundation’s schools program launched in 2012 by Don Routh, Josh Routh, and Bill Wheeler, introduces students in Tri-Valley schools firsthand to the enabling power of a wheelchair and connects them personally through letters and photographs to wheelchair recipients in Latin America whose lives have been positively impacted by their fundraising efforts. The gift of mobility spreads life-liberating benefits like ripples in a pond to family, friends, and caregivers multiplying the effect of each one delivered tenfold.

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Wheelchair Foundation From the Heart students are all smiles in Danville’s 4th of July parade. Photo courtesy of Wheelchair Foundation.

Raised during the Depression in a home with no hot water or central heat, Behring thought he knew what poverty was like until he began traveling to Africa in the 1990s. Taken to hospitals with inadequate medical supplies sometimes so overcrowded patients had to lie on the floor and schools that had no books and barely provided shelter, Behring responded by stocking his plane with human-itarian supplies each time he returned. In 1999, six wheelchairs destined for a hospital in Romania filled out the cargo of 15 tons of canned meat gathered by LDS Charities for delivery to refugees.

In Road to Purpose, Behring writes: “Little did I know that these six wheelchairs would alter the direction of my life.” One elderly stroke victim exclaimed after Ken helped settle him in his new wheelchair, “Now I can go outside in my yard and smoke with my neighbors.” Ken took to heart the lesson he learned that day. “I had previously seen wheelchairs as a form of confinement. I didn’t comprehend the liberation that one could bring to those who are unable to afford them.” Trips to Vietnam and Guatemala in early 2000 confirmed the enormous need and inspired Behring to address it. One Guatemalan girl only six or seven years old spent her days sitting in a box while her parents worked. Behring writes: “When we gave her a wheelchair, the mother was incredibly grateful. She told us that for the first time, her child would be able to move around the house. It would allow her to go to school and receive an education. No longer would she be confined to a box. She would have a future.”

Don Routh (L) and Josh Routh (R) with wheelchair recipient in Columbia paralyzed in a mining accident. Photo courtesy of Wheelchair Foundation.

An essential part of the message From the Heart brings to local schools is that wheel-chairs are a source of opportunity rather than limitation and that wheelchair users are enabled rather than disabled by their means of achieving mobility. Josh Routh takes the lead in demonstrating the point. Born with Cerebral Palsy, Josh is skilled at propelling his wheelchair in basketball competitions, to work, as a volunteer at School of the Imagination in Dublin, and throughout Latin America on Wheelchair Foundation distribution trips to remote villages with dad Don and amigo Bill.

Barbara Bosse gets a hug from wheelchair recipient in Columbia. Photo courtesy of Wheelchair Foundation.

Wheelchair Foundation Community Outreach Director Barbara Bosse partners with Josh at school assemblies.“I like to refer to Josh as my secret weapon,” she says. “He has a unique way of connecting with students and teachers alike. He demonstrates to students how he gets in and out of his wheelchair, how he can shoot hoops, and how he is also very comfortable answering all of their questions no matter how awkward they may seem. On one occasion, a little girl said, ‘I feel sorry for you.’ Josh replied, ‘Don’t feel sorry for me. I can do amazing things because I have this wheelchair.’” Schools interested in taking advantage of the program are encouraged to tailor it to their needs. Bosse explains, “As a teacher myself, I understand how difficult it is to ask teachers to add one more thing to their already full calendars. I like to impress upon prospective schools, ‘How can we make the program work for you?’ I emphasize the flexibility of our program and the many ways it can be tailored to fit each school’s needs.”

Black Tie Transportation founder Bill Wheeler donates delivery of wheelchairs to schools for students to experience what an hour or a day in a wheelchair is like. One middle school student wrote: “From this experience I learned that people treat you a whole lot different when you’re in a wheelchair. People treated me at two extremes. They either cared for me and did everything they absolutely could or they took advantage of me, used me as a racecar, or pushed me as fast as they could, even as I yelled for them to stop.”

Fundraising for wheelchair deliveries is included as an aspect of the program. Some teachers use the project to emphasize math. Others ask students to write to community organizations or visit them in person to hone their communication skills. The top fundraiser is Lydikesen School in Pleasanton. Strong supporters in SRVUSD include Tassajara Hills, Montair, Hidden Hills, Diablo Vista, Windermere Ranch, Pine Valley, Dougherty Valley High, Monte Vista and San Ramon Valley High. Some teachers and students join the summer wheelchair delivery teams to Latin America. This July’s Columbia journey accomplished seven distributions in five days, including one home visit. Personal connections underscore their achievement for every educator and student involved in From the Heart. Bosse notes: “Students are asked to write letters in Spanish that are then given to each wheelchair recipient on a distribution trip. In return, the student receives a reply in the form of a handwritten letter from the person and/or the family receiving the gift of a wheelchair. The personal connec-tion between our students participating in letter writing and the recipients of the wheelchair helps demonstrate that a little effort on the student’s part makes a huge difference in the lives of others.”

Alexa Michna & Augie Byllott of Creating Wealth USA started fundraising last October and raised enough money to deliver an entire container, 280 wheelchairs to Guatemala. Their group of 25 individuals that included teens and adults, made the trek and personally delivered the wheelchairs along with a number of gifts for the local communities. Thank you to all of those involved with this distribution. 

If your organization would like information on how you can begin fundraising for wheelchairs, you can find our contact information HERE.

The need is still great! To see our current campaigns and to make a donation, please click the Donate Now button below.

Wheelchair Foundation is proud to announce the launch of our new app powered by ViewSpark. From your smartphone, you can now stay up to date on all of our exciting developments and receive real-time updates including photos and videos while we’re delivering wheelchairs around the world. Simply text the word WHEELCHAIR to the number 555888 and you’ll receive a link to download our FREE app. The app is available on both the App Store for iPhone or Google Play for Android devices and you can click the buttons below to download. We look forward to sharing these updates with you and feel free to share this with any of your friends!

Sincerely,

Wheelchair Foundation

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