The life-changing gift of a wheelchair

The life-changing gift of a wheelchair

In a workshop outside Perth, the walls don’t need to talk. The photos of beaming children pinned around the warehouse speak volumes. 

Their faces show the difference that the gift of a wheelchair can make in the lives of boys and girls already dealing with dire poverty.  

Take Mercy, a 10-year-old girl from Kenya who had to be carried to school by her mum as she has spina bifida. Once there, Mercy’s classmates picked on her as she was different. And when she became too big for her mum to lift, Mercy stopped going to class altogether.   

Then there’s Alice in Uganda, whose malaria became so severe her right side was paralysed. For eight years, she had no means of mobility, unable to attend school or embrace life in her community.  

But their lives have been turned around thanks to a partnership between World Vision, Motivation Charitable Trust and Wheelchairs for Kids in Western Australia. 

Five days a week, 240 selfless retirees volunteer to assemble wheelchairs. The room buzzes with conversation as the retirees pump out hundreds of wheelchairs a year – from former doctors and bank managers, to tradespeople and physiotherapists. 

When assembled, World Vision Australia ships the wheelchairs to its field offices in Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi and Uganda. Staff on the ground work with Motivation Charitable Trust to train health centre staff and wheelchair technicians, so children can be properly fitted and educated.  

Mercy is pushed in her wheelchair by her sister Michelle.

With her new wheelchair, Mercy can now easily go to school with her older sister Michelle.

World Vision Australia’s Field Partnerships Advisor Gabrielle Bourke says it’s literally life-changing for not just the child, but the family and the wider community.

She says it’s a sad reality that millions of children never get access to a wheelchair in developing countries.

“In fact, only about 20 million wheelchairs are produced annually around the world – but 80 million people need one,” she says.

“And guess where those 20 million wheelchairs go? Predominantly to wealthy countries. Children with disabilities in developing countries are the most vulnerable in the communities we work in. They are less likely to access social, educational and employment opportunities, and more likely to face discrimination and abuse.”

Almost 1,000 wheelchairs are sent to World Vision children each year, thanks to generous support from Wheelchairs for Kids and World Vision supporters. 

When Mercy was finally given her first set of wheels this year, she spun around with a giant smile plastered to her face. She now joins her older sister, Michelle, on the three kilometre dirt path to school, with a newfound sense of freedom and dignity.

As for Alice, she went to school for the first time at the age of 16.  

“Our volunteers find these stories motivating and uplifting, and it drives them to continue working and fundraising,” says Gordon Hudson, CEO of Wheelchairs for Kids.