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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

Josh Burroughs in Shanghai, China, at the official handover of wheelchairs sponsored by his Rotary club, the Rotary Club of San Jose, California, for the 2010 World Expo.

Josh Burroughs in Shanghai, China, at the
official handover of wheelchairs sponsored by his Rotary club, the Rotary Club of San Jose, California, for the 2010 World Expo.

Josh Burroughs began his legacy of supporting Wheelchair Foundation in his college days at Cal Poly State University in San Luis Obispo, California.  In August of 2008, Josh was a team leader among a group of students who traveled to Peru to distribute 400 wheelchairs.  The students purchased these 400 wheelchairs through a year’s worth of work as a class project.  Josh was totally overwhelmed by the powerful, life-changing experience of placing someone in a wheelchair, and from that point on, committed to continuing this wonderful work.

In the fall of 2009, Josh again traveled with Dr. Lynn Metcalfe, Professor of Marketing and humanitarian, and fellow students whom she had challenged, guided and encouraged to become philanthropic. This time they flew to Oaxaca, Mexico, to deliver 400 more wheelchairs they had purchased.

Following graduation from Cal Poly, and still smitten by his desire to make a difference in the world, Josh joined the Rotary Club of San Jose, California, and began a career with Barry Swenson Builders. Through his business and Rotary connections, Josh has helped fund and organize distributions in Shanghai, China, and Bangladesh, where Josh and fellow Rotarians visited community centers, hospitals and homes to deliver the gifts of hope and mobility directly to recipients.

Josh in Oaxaca, Mexico, as a Cal Poly student.

Josh in Oaxaca, Mexico, as a Cal Poly student.

This spring, San Jose Rotarians and Wine for Wheels worked in partnership with the Forever Love Foundation and the Department of Social Development and Welfare to arrange wheelchair distributions in Chiang Mai, Bangkok and Chon Buri Provinces in Thailand. Ceremonies were held at rehabilitation centers, a veteran’s hospital, individual homes and a home for the disabled. These home deliveries were especially emotional, allowing the Rotarians to witness first-hand how wheelchairs would help the recipient and family members around their home.

Josh is back to work, championing a new project to send wheelchairs to Croatia. He is a shining example of the philanthropic spirit of a new generation and of how just one person can make a huge difference in the world by helping others and changing lives.

 

This article taken in it’s entirety and written by Jody Morgan appeared in both the Danville Today News as well as the Alamo Today. 
 

The Wheelchair Foundation has delivered nearly 920,000 wheelchairs in over 150 countries since its inception in 2000. As founder Kenneth Behring’s original goal of giving one million wheelchairs to disabled individuals around the world nears fulfillment, global need continues to grow. An estimated 100 million people unable to afford a wheelchair are waiting in hidden corners of the earth for the chance to experience the empowerment of mobility.

Josh Routh connects with a nonagenarian in Tlaquepaque, Mexico, one of many wheelchair recipients from 4-96 years of age hea has met in Latin America. Photo courtesy of Don Routh

Wheelchairs were not among the donation Behring was packing in his private plane in 1999 when LSD Charities (the humanitarian outreach branch of the Latter Day Saints) asked him to drop off their aid packages en route to his African destination  He readily agreed. Included in that cargo were six wheelchairs bound for a hospital in Romania. “Little did I know” he writes, “that those six wheelchairs would change the direction of my life.”

Behring, a successful Danville developer, defines the joy generated by setting a wheelchair recipient’s dreams in motion as the acheivement of purpose. In his 2004 autobiography Road to Purpose, he recount, “I lifted a small Vietnamese girl from the ground and placed her in a wheelchair. In that instant, she found hope…Her face opened into a smile, her eyes as bright as the noontime sky. And I knew for all she had changed in that moment, I had changed even more.”

Initially, Behring explored recycling used wheelchairs. The process proved the reverse of cost-effective. Packaging for shipment added to the expense of parts and labor for repairs. Then Behring asked manufacturers to design a durable wheelchair priced according to the high volume of orders he anticipated. One product seemed perfect, but it required two hours to piece together when uncrated. Today’s model comes in five sizes, ordered with regular or all-terrain tires, and can be assembled in 15 minutes. Averaging shipping costs to all destinations, the Foundation can deliver each wheelchair for just $150.  In Bolivia a comparable product costs $1,700.  In many countries, the price of a wheelchair exceeds an average laborer’s annual income.

The Wheelchair Foundation runs an administratively lean operation, funneling virtually every dollar into providing wheelchairs. Volunteers and service organizations across America do much of the fundraising. Unanimously declaring the positive return on their investment inestimable donors traveling on distribution trips pay their own expenses.  On the receiving end, similar groups arrange local logistics including identification of recipients and appropriate configuration of the wheelchairs they require. They also fund and coordinate transportation to remote locations where wheelchairs are most needed.  Rotary International, with clubs in over 200 countries, is frequently involved in all aspect of the process.

Since Bill Wheeler, founder of Blacktie Transportation, invited them on their first journey, Josh Routh and his father Don have made 20 distribution trips to 11 countries. In the remote town Juigalpa, Nicaragua, they met a 26 year-old woman who had been waiting eight years to acquire the wheelchair she needed to utilize the scholarship to Managua University she earned as a high school honors graduate.  Finally enabled to pursue her studies, she chose psychology so she could hep families coping with disabilities   In poorer places, when one family member is disabled, another often has to stay home from school or work to act as a caregiver.

Josh tears up as he describes a recipient brought to a wheelchair distribution in a wheelbarrow and another crawling through the dust to get there. Born with cerebral palsy, Josh has never walked.  Although doctors predicted he would remain a quadriplegic, never uttering an intelligible word, the 33-year old San Ramon resident drives his own car and lives independently. A cashier at Nob Hill, Josh dedicates much of his time to aiding others.

Hayward students connected with peers in El Salvador by sending wheelchairs and t-shirts.

“When you give someone the gift of mobility, you are giving them freedom and dignity…and when someone has freedom and dignity then they have hope for the future,” explains Don Routh.  Now retired, Don spreads awareness of the worldwide need for the means of mobility and the elation engendered by improving the life of each wheelchair recipient.  One of his initiatives at a Hayward elementary school gave low-income Latino students the opportunity to celebrate joy in their joint accomplishment: raising enough money to send six wheelchairs to less fortunate peers in El Salvador.

Don Routh plans to introduce the program the “Three Amigos” (Don, Josh and Bill) are currently piloting with the Pleasanton Unified School District to additional area school districts this spring. They provide live and video presentations, posters, collection containers, and fundraising ideas. Wheeler offers Blacktie’s community bus free for one field trip per school to either the Blackhawk Museum/Wheelchair Foundation exhibits or a wheelchair sport event.  Ten wheelchairs are available for schools to borrow in rotation for students to test drive or use in fundraising races or sport competitions. For information, email donrouth@comcast.net

Eva Carleton, Regional Director of Operations of Latin America and the Caribbean, travels on 3-4 distribution trips a year while coordinating the delivery of 40-50 projects. Every working day she helps provide someone with what sh considers a basic human right: a wheelchair.  “Without a wheelchair,” Carleton notes, “you have to ask for everything you need.”  Eva’s mother’s quality of life improved dramatically once she accepted how enabling the device could be. She no longer has to ring for a nurse every time she wants a simple object like a tissue.

In a Colombian community several hours from Bogota, Carleton met a woman who had been unable to work for five years due to a spinal injury.  Thanks to her Foundation wheelchair, she was back at her job.  Minutes later, Eva encountered another wheelchair recipient happily earning money keeping parked cars safe.

“It’s always a joy to give someone a wheelchair and it is an even greater joy to personally watch and hear how that wheelchair improved their life,” explains David Behring, President of the Wheelchair Foundation.  David met Tran Nghia in 2003.  Born with a neurological disorder, the Vietnamese high school student depended on family and friends to carry her everywhere.  She needed a wheelchair to attend university to study English and become a doctor.  The following year David visited her family and they kept in touch.  In November 2012 they met again in Hanoi.  “Nghia unfortunately could not become a doctor due to her disability but she did learn English and translates documents for a Vietnamese company.  … Her smile was as radiant as I remembered it back in 2003.”

A wheelchair recipient with Kenneth Behring (right). Photo courtesy of the Wheelchair Foundation

Kenneth Behring make a point of shaking the hand of every wheelchair recipient.  “All we ask in return is a smile.”  Partnering with non-governmental agencies permits the Wheelchair Foundation to give the gift of mobility with no strings attached.  Creating global friendship and promoting the joy of giving are additional aspects of this non-profit organization’s mission “to deliver a wheelchair to every child, teen, and adult in the world who needs one, but cannot afford one.”

The Wheelchair Foundation’s annual Charity Ball at the Blackhawk Museum February 23rd is open to the public as are all Foundation fundraisers.  Jeff Behring, Director of Special Benefits, offers a Wine for Wheels private party plan getting rave reviews nationwide as a means for finding personal purpose while sharing fun with friends.  To register for the Charity Ball, plan a Wine for Wheels event, learn more about Foundation activities or to make a donation, visit www.wheelchairfoundation.org. Road to Purpose is available at the Danville Library.

DANVILLE, CA (KGO) — A wheelchair can mean the difference between being bed-ridden or leading a productive life. But in many parts of the world, cost keeps them out of the hands of people who need them. One East Bay charity is hoping to make a difference two wheels at a time.

On the island of San Pedro in Belize, artist Kurt Jason Cruz was attacked in 2006. It left him completely paralyzed.

“I got stabbed in my lower back and neck and was paralyzed for four months and I couldn’t even move from neck down,” he said.

He has regained some mobility, and can now get around thanks to the Danville-based Wheelchair Foundation. The non-profit has given away hundreds of thousands of wheelchairs over the past decade to people in need all over the world. The idea began with developer Ken Behring. Now his sons have taken up the cause.

“The most important thing is to be able to give personally,” said Jeff Behring.

The Behrings organize trips around the world so donors can hand over the wheelchairs in person.

“I think year after year the people that have gone on our wheelchair missions in the past always want to repeat themselves, so we’re getting a larger and larger number of people who want to go with us and personally participate and put people in wheelchairs and give them the gift of mobility,” said Jeff Behring.

“When you see the smiles and tears — I get very emotional,” said David Behring. “When somebody starts crying out of joy, I usually end up breaking down with the family.”

The Wheelchair Foundation buys specially designed wheelchairs in China for about $150.

“They don’t have the money and the resources,” said David Behring. “Many of these people make less than a thousand dollars a year, and in these countries a wheelchair can cost anywhere from $400 to $700.”

Volunteers say seeing the joy in the eyes of those who get a wheelchair is like no experience they have ever had.

“All of a sudden when you put them in a wheelchair you can feel that, you can feel the change, you feel the desire to live and wanting to be and embracing life and do things and it’s just an amazing thing to experience, but it’s an amazing thing to feel,” said volunteer Glenn Perry.

The Wheelchair Foundation is now trying to raise money for 2,000 wheelchairs to send to the devastated regions of Haiti. Every $75 donation is matched and improves the life of one person.

For more information on how you can help, visit www.wheelchairfoundation.org.

SOURCE: ABC 7 KGO-San Francisco