Jose Leon has spent most of his recent days sitting in a rocking chair on the porch. The 80-year-old suffered a stroke five years ago and has been confined to his home since. Although his 15-year-old grandson is strong enough to carry him, the only time Leon has left the house has been when the ambulance has come to pick him up for appointments at the hospital.
His story is not uncommon in Guanacaste, Costa Rica, where adults and children who have become immobile due to accidents or illnesses such as polio and diabetes often lack resources to obtain wheelchairs. Many of them rely on family and friends to move around; some get around by sliding or crawling on the ground.
Free Wheelchair Mission Gifts Mobility and Hope to Children and Adults With Disabilities
The World Health Organization estimates that 70 million people living in developing countries share similar experiences. Free Wheelchair Mission (FWM), a nonprofit, humanitarian organization, was founded to help these individuals by gifting them durable and inexpensive wheelchairs.
Don Schoendorfer is the mastermind behind FWM. A biomedical engineer by trade, Schoendorfer was determined to build a simple and cost-effective wheelchair for people in need. In 2001, he established FWM to raise funds for the assembly and delivery of wheelchairs to children and adults with disabilities around the world.
“Human beings have such an innate need and desire to move independently,” said Schoendorfer. “When you rob them of this, you take away so much humanity. Some of these people have been waiting for a wheelchair for maybe 25 years. Once you put them in one, they instantly gain this dignity from sitting up straight. It’s that simple.”
Right at Home Partners With Free Wheelchair Mission to Transform Lives Together
In April 2017, Right at Home teamed up with the Free Wheelchair Mission to extend the gift of mobility. Today, Right at Home has raised approximately $129,000, or three containers of wheelchairs, for people who need them most.
In the fall of 2017, 11 members of the Right at Home team from Nebraska, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Missouri joined the Free Wheelchair Mission to assemble and deliver 35 wheelchairs to those in need in Costa Rica.
“Every day we see how lack of mobility affects the quality of life for the seniors we serve,” said Rosaleen Doherty, owner of Right at Home Boston and North. “For people living with a disability in less-resourced nations, a wheelchair opens doors to an education, a job, independence and social interaction. Mobility encourages renewed self-confidence and hope.”
Right at Home provides in-home care and assistance to seniors and adults with disabilities in the U.S. and seven countries around the world. Empowering elders and adults with disabilities to maintain their independence and dignity is our mission, and that aligns perfectly with the goal FWM aspires to achieve.
A Somber Reflection on Preventative Care and Healthcare
Delivering free wheelchairs to meet the need in Costa Rica serves special meaning this holiday season. As Tropical Storm Nate tore through Costa Rica in October 2017, damage to the country is still visible. Floods have left much of the country inundated, and the elderly and people with disabilities who were unable to evacuate their homes were often stuck with water coming up to their beds.
“We felt honored to be part of this journey,” said Kirsten Pahde, owner of Right at Home St. Charles, Missouri. Pahde thought that going through the entire process — from fundraising to assembling, delivering and fitting individuals in their new wheelchairs — was immensely powerful. “When people get their wheelchairs, they just light up,” she said.
Pahde learned that many of the recipients became disabled due to lack of preventative care. “We are so fortunate to take that for granted,” she said. “When you have an infection in the U.S., you go take care of it. But in Costa Rica, it may lead to an amputation. A lot of the people we met hadn’t left their homes in years. If they left, they crawled, or their family members carried them.”
Another member of the “Vision Trip” (as referred to by FWM) felt similarly to Pahde. Betty Harris from Right at Home’s headquarters found the trip humbling. “It’s overwhelming to be right there and see families struggle and then see the change. It was immediate,” said Harris.
Durable Wheelchairs Boost Social Interaction for Those With Disabilities
As Padhe, Harris, Doherty and the rest of their team began building wheelchairs, they were informed that they needed to put the assembly on hold so they could quickly deliver one wheelchair because their first recipient had to leave for a hospital visit soon.
The team arrived at Leon’s house to find him sitting in his rocking chair. He was excited to have a “new car” and said he would finally be able to go to church and visit friends and neighbors outside the periphery of his porch.
Right at Home is in the process of adding more Vision Trips to its calendar and hopes to partake in two trips in 2018. The cost to manufacture, ship, build and deliver one wheelchair is $80. Join us to be part of the movement to help people with disabilities around the world!