Our Volunteer Efforts
By Rick Carson
I did my first trip with Free Wheelchair Mission to the Philippines in 2008. It changed my life in many ways. Although I had gone on mission trips before and helped people, their needs were different — we might have built projects to make people more comfortable, but that did not fundamentally change people’s lives. A mission trip to assist people with physical disabilities was quite different.
Free Wheelchair Mission is a non-profit organization that provides free wheelchairs to people with disabilities in developing countries. In cooperation with Operation Blessing International, my wife and I and other volunteers went to Mexico on October 14 to assemble and deliver lightweight wheelchairs that feature inflatable bicycle tires designed for rough terrain.
We provided the recipients with repair kits and pumps that enable easy replacement and repairs. The expression of gratitude from the recipients was the most heartwarming experience I had in Mexico. In developing countries, people with disabilities are mostly kept inside and out of the way of others. In their families they are loved but they are often perceived as an inconvenience. We knew that we had helped them gain mobility and freedom for themselves and their families.
Meeting the needs without intruding people’s lifestyle
We live in a nation of bountiful resources. Our normal life expectations assume a degree of conspicuous consumption here in the United States. In Mexico, the lifestyle is different. We found the people of Mexico very content with their way of life and in need of little. We met a specific need of the people, the reward for us was to know that we met their needs at no cost to them with little intrusion into their way of life.
One of the best moments of this trip happened when we were distributing the wheelchairs. Our leader from Operation Blessing wanted to stop for a meal as it was already past lunch time. We told him that we wanted to continue and finish the distribution even though it would not give us time for food. Our dedication left a big impression on him. He commented later that he never had a team like ours in the past. It made me proud that the team had more dedication and commitment to others’ needs than to our own.
Improving the life for those we serve
In a way, I felt that I was facilitating the beginning of a new life for the wheelchair recipients and their families. One little girl who could not walk was intimidated by how tall I am at first. When I tried to adjust the wheelchair to fit her, she cried and wanted to return to her parents’ arms. Later that day, I saw her in the wheelchair with the biggest smile on her face. I could see her joy.
We also met a young man in his early twenties who had never been outdoors. Giving him mobility to leave his home was exciting for both him and us. We realized that very few people are aware of a need out there. And the same is true here in the States— we tend to leave our elderly and disabled to fend for themselves. Those we should be taking care of are often perceived as less important than ourselves. My first wheelchair mission trip was in fact a major reason I decided to take a career transition into the senior home care industry. I want to improve people’s lives by serving them.