This is a fantastic organization making a profound impact on the lives of people suffering around the world. I like to see my charitable donations put to use to reduce human misery, and FWM fulfills that goal. I’ve had the opportunity to travel to South America to help distribute wheelchairs directly to the recipients in their homes and to see what a difference it makes. The wheelchair design has been revised and improved and is now on its third generation.
Review from Guidestar
My mother Sally is a double amputee and lives in a convalescnt home. Her medical insurance will not pay for her an electric wheelchair. She would love to have more freedom that a electric chair can give her.She is a very lively person and deserves to be able to get around like the rest of us.Please help in any way you can.Thank you
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!
Review from CharityNavigator
I was sorry to read Bradley Wallis's review above. However, this seems to come with the territory for people who devote their lives to helping to change the world. I spent over 10 years with this organization in a number of roles including Board Member, volunteer, donor, and personally visited and participated in distributions in Africa and China. I'm not aware of any chair that can be purchased or manufactured for less that is the equal or better to than this chair. If it existed, I know Don Schoendorfer would be the first to recommend it. The goal of this organization has never been to provide the ultimate solution to the massive need for mobilization for some of the most forgotten people in the world. I would ask any naysayer to join in a distribution of these chairs someday. Ask one of the recipients who has been living in a corner of a hut in the mud who now can roll out into the sun and rejoin life again: "would you prefer to return this low cost chair you received for free, so I can go and look for a $500 chair for you that I have no idea I can pay for or that you will ever receive."I doubt you could convince one person to give up their chair. As for Jesus, well he comes with the territory. I'm sorry if that offends anyone but the organization is founded by and run by people of faith. There is no religious overtone to the giving away of the chairs. People are told why and how the organization happens to be motivated to do this work. I've never seen or heard a complain on the other side of the field. The few that do come up are from folks at this end.
FWM was my choice to donate my winnings from a charity 5K that I won. During the run I was thinking about how thankful I am for the ability to run. I wanted to share the amazing gift of mobility to others in developing countries so FWM was the perfect choice. This charity does incredible work and I am proud to support their mission. I like knowing that my donation gave physical wheelchairs and met the personal needs of others. I wish there was a way to rate them higher than 5 stars.
I have just read the post below and find it very disingenuous and inaccurate. I have supported Free Wheelchair Mission (with my hard earned $$$) for a number of years and will continue to do so. There appears to be a lack of understanding in the comments below regarding the basic concept behind FWM which is to provide low cost wheelchairs which are low maintenance and designed to withstand the terrain and environment in the destination countries around the world where conditions are so very different to the USA. This approach and innovation has resulted in reaching over 600,000 of the poor disabled to date, against the estimated demand of 100 million, restoring dignity and new opportunities. Thousands of lives have been changed - please read the stories of the impact on their web site and I challenge you not to be moved. The chairs have developed over time while still keeping costs low and check out their Gen2 chair on their web site.
I also take issue with the comment regarding salaries and perhaps if they knew the history of FWM and the years of hardship with no salary to get the the charity off the ground they would think differently both about dollars and heart.
The comment challenging wheelchairs being donated in the name of Jesus is also somewhat difficult to understand. I certainly see my donations (converted to chairs) in that way. These people have a real heart for the poor disabled and are responding to the call to be the hands and feet of Jesus.
I wish the person posting below had taken their own advice and done their research, but more thoroughly.
For my part, keep up the great work FWM and I will continue to support this life changing work.
Do your due dilegence before you give your hard-earned $$ to this group. There are FAR better, REAL wheelchairs, less expensive than these plastic lawn chairs to give the globally disabled! In my opinion, these people simply fund their own big over-blown salaries on the backs of the disabled in the developing world. SAD. That they use Jesus name to do it doesn't surprise me necessarily but offends me just the same. Please, do some simple quick research - very easy - and donate to folks who give REAL WHEELCHAIRS of heaven sakes! In my opinon, donor beware absolutely on this one.
Andrew Young 05/21/2012
Hello and thank you for your feedback. Our wheelchairs are made to the highest standards of quality and durability and are specially designed for the rigors of use throughout the developing world. There is an article available at http://www.medscimonit.com/index.php?/archives/article/869466 if you would like to see the results of field surveys regarding our GEN_1 chairs, and another article involving a follow-up investigation of 600 wheelchair recipients in three different countries was just accepted for publication. Both investigations were conducted by an independent researcher and professor of physical therapy. Our GEN_2 wheelchairs were recently cleared for market in the USA by the FDA, though we have no intentions of selling them. The feedback we receive from our partners in the field is overwhelmingly positive and we are told consistently that our wheelchairs outlast designs contemporary to our own. FWM’s executive salaries are reviewed yearly to make sure that they fall in the median range of our peers in the non-profit field. As to your allegations that we are invoking Christ’s name to somehow profiteer on the backs of the disabled poor in the developing world, that is simply not true. The fact is, this is God’s mission, not ours and we strive to serve others as He served.
Review from CharityNavigator
Having served as a part time missionary in Haiti over the last 10 years, I recently returned from a distribution trip with FWM in Vietnam.
I have read the other reviews, and often wonder what it is that sets some people off to try and give a bad impression of people or organizations that have good intentions.
From my experience on the vietnam trip, I can say that i was impressed with the quality and durability of the chairs. We have had these chairs in Haiti for a few years, and they hold up far better than ANY conventional chair when used in third world conditions. The "lawn chair" is used only as the seating surface, and does not have a structural purpose.
After assembling and distributing over 200 chairs in just 4 days, I do not recall anyone who received a chair complaining about the fact that they were now mobile. Some had been on the ground for over 50 years.
I love FWM, and will join them on future trips. I believe their goal and gift is well worth the cost and everyone on the FWM staff that I met is honest about their intentions and calling.
Review from CharityNavigator
I feel very privileged to call Free Wheelchair Mission a friend. I lead an organization called Giving It Back to Kids. We have been fortunate to partner with FWM for over 5 years now and have distributed over 55,000 wheelchairs to the disabled in Vietnam.
Coming from a nation that Handicapped accessibility is law, makes it very hard for us to even fathom that literally hundreds of thousands in Vietnam alone have to either crawl or depend on someone to move them. Even things we take for granted are impossible without assistance.
I have personally lifted men without legs into their first wheelchair. I cannot find words to express the felling it is to see a man smile and get a glimmer of hope in their eye. That maybe just maybe now they can go out and find a way to work. To have them reach out and squeeze my arms. Though we do not speak the same language the gratitude is overwhelming.
The countless I have met who have not been outside in years and the biggest things they could think of doing was just to go outside and feel the sun on their skin. Or the man who when I asked what will do first. He smiled at me, got a faraway look in his eyes and said I will wheel down to the river and sit by “myself” for the first time in many years! I realized that everywhere he has been he has had to be with someone at his side. Everywhere he went he depended on someone to carry him!
I could go on and on with story after story of the impact Free Wheelchair Mission has on lives of the disabled all around the world. But one thing I don’t hear talked about is the huge impact it has on organizations like us who work in Vietnam. The wheelchairs have opened doors and given us great favor with the Government. With this favor we have been able to do so many other cutting edge programs!
Thank you Don Schoendorfer and all the terrific and committed staff of Wheelchair Mission
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.
Review from Guidestar
I LOVE the Free Wheelchair Mission! It was my first mission trip and it was the best experience of my life! I read some other reviews and I'd like to correct a couple mistakes. The wheelchairs are FREE to people recieving them (people donate about $60 per chair to purchase one and send it to someone who needs it). I can't explain how grateful the people are who recieve these chairs! Also, the chairs do consist of a "lawnchair", which is very durable and is the best possable choice for the areas they'll be in! The chairs have a cushioned seat, mountain bike tires (as the roads in most underdeveloped countries are dirt), and breaks that are inspected at every distribution. Elderly people, hurt children or disabled people delight in having their own chair to finally move around in. The chairs also have a footrest, which is adjusted for each specific person to the length of their legs for their comfort. These chairs provide people with mobility and comfort! During my trip to Viet Nam, we met a man who had been on the ground for 45 years. He smiled when we lifted him into his own chair :). If anyone has the means to go on a trip like this, I highly recommend it!
Review from CharityNavigator
FWM discriminates against people with disabilities. These contraptions are not wheelchairs they are lawn chairs. Please stop using poor people with disabilities as your puppets and for your financial gains. You can purchase real folding wheelchairs from your partnering Chinese factory for the same price you hustle innocent people for. If your lawn chair is not good enough for people in the USA – why do you continue to dump these things in the developing world - the answer is clear
I have not had good experience with this organization in terms of their staff/administration and their salaries and trustworthiness. The founder/president makes over $140K a year and they spend nearly 1.5 million in administrative and fundraising costs. It was a great concept at the start, but in my opinion, needs cleaning up. I took myself off their fundraising lists.