FREE WHEELCHAIR MISSION
This organization is an outstanding example of just how much can be done with a little creativity, a lot of hard work, great local partners, and an undying passion to reach and transform the lives of those who truly are the poorest, most marginalized in the world. Through their vast network of local partners, Free Wheelchair Mission (FWM) has distributed over 670,000 durable, simply-constructed, comfortable wheelchairs in 86 countries. As one writer has said, the quality of the chairs has been verified through approval by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA). This means the quality of the chairs distributed overseas is the same as one that would be distributed in the USA. The Gen 1 chair may look odd to some, but an immense amount of research and engineering design (including collaboration with UCI) went into its production, and it is extremely well received by families and beneficiaries. Many people in the US may not know, but families and caretakers often bathe wheelchair recipients directly in the chair, and its unique design allows them to do that. For a disabled individual living their whole life in the mud of the Mekong delta, or the family of a child with a disability, for instance, the chair may be the most beautiful thing they have ever seen. Being able to move around brings dignity, hope, and the possibility of a better life. And for $71.88, this is the biggest bang for your buck of any humanitarian agency I know - and I've been in the business for over 20 years. Another point is that most humanitarian agencies won't openly offer donors to experience a distribution in the way FWM does - but I know many people who have travelled to the location where their donated wheelchairs were destined for, whether that was Vietnam, Uganda, Peru, etc., and participated in their assembly and distribution. Now that is transparency! For those who are critical, they should do a little more research before they criticize... and they might find as we have that FWM and its partners (including leading Motivation International out of the UK) are amongst the finest in the business - if not the very best!
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I am an occupational therapist and have worked with people with disabilities at a rehab hospital 35 years. I have been involved with the FWM since 2005, heading up a fund raising group called, Idaho Believes. I've also had the opportunity to travel twice to Uganda, with my wife, and another couple, to follow a container of wc's around the country. We went with our cameras so we could bring back to Idaho video of people crawling, people being lifted into their wc's and the transformation that takes place. I am so totally sold on this project and the overwhelming need to get people off the ground. Sometime ago I had a patient at the hospital with a spinal cord injury that left him paralyzed from the chest down. He left the hospital, after 2 months of rehab, with a manual wc, a power wc, a hospital bed, a mobil arm support, a commode/shower chair, a remodeled home, a caregiver and financial security. A few weeks later I was in Uganda watching people with similar injuries being lifted off the ground and put into their new $60.00 wc's. I don't need to tell you who was more greatful.
I have been very impressed with the design of the wc, rugged, maintainable and extremely cost effective. Almost every year something new is added: the covered cushion, adjustable footrest, harness . . . When Don Schoendorfer, the founder and president of the FWM, began work on the new wc, gen 2, he came to our rehab hospital and met with the therapist. He got input from wc experts who run the wc clinics. The new wc is amazingly adjustable.
I appreciated the study done at Azusa Pacific University, comparing the quality of life in FWM recipients before and after recieving wc's.
Recipents reported improvements socially, funtionally and with their health, including a decline in pressure sores.
Don Schoendorfer understands the overwhelming need of the disabled in the 3rd world and has a great solution.
I've personally experienced the results of this organization in...
Trips to Uganda, seeing the need and the transformation of people receiving their wc's
Ways to make it better...
If I had to make changes to this organization, I would...
work on ways to send more Americans out to help with wc distributions