A conventional wheelchair is already expensive for a child from a third world nation who needs one. And so a foundation was established with its volunteers dedicating their time and effort in creating and manufacturing 30,000 wheelchairs to help children with a disability overseas.
The Wheelchairs for Kids Foundation started from a Queensland rotary club member’s idea of building and giving wheelchairs to impoverished, disabled kids in underdeveloped and under resourced nations. The Rotary Club of Surfers Sunrise member along with the entire club made the concept into a reality. With their aid, in 1998, Scarborough Rotary Club, Western Australia adopted the idea and started the project as “Wheelchairs for Kids”.
The club started the project wherein they trialed the production of the mobility devices in 2 prisons and 3 schools in Perth. They then moved the project to a workshop for disadvantaged young people in Western Australia. The project operated under the supervision of voluntary CEO Gordon Hudson and workshop manager Brother Olly Pickett.
After a few months, Scarborough Rotary Club and Christian Brothers jointly searched for a dedicated workshop and rented it for the wheelchairs to be built or manufactured. The project later flourished and gained momentum requiring them to move in a larger premise to accommodate the workshop and expand it at the same time.
Over the years, the number of volunteers increased and reached 170. Most of them are retirees. Fly-in, fly-out employees and occupational therapy students also volunteered. The retirees are filled with enthusiasm and have found a way of remaining social and physically fit. The young students and adult workers are very much passionate of their work.
The volunteers divided their work wherein they formed groups including a number of knitting groups responsible for putting together the trunks for the wheelchairs. Several groups are assigned to control quality and box the devices’ components. Other groups are responsible for loading the boxes into container vans and preparing them for shipment.
The younger volunteers are tasked to take on the management roles. Everyone is working to achieve their goal. They dedicated their time and effort to create 300 wheelchairs per month and send them to disabled children overseas, who are mostly victims of land mines. Each wheelchair costs more than $100 to make. The chairs are shipped to many countries including Vietnam, Iraq, China, Sri Lanka, Papua New Guinea, Myanmar and Tanzania.
Jacquie Whelan, a volunteer for the Burma Children Medical Fund, expressed the children’s delight in receiving their own wheelchairs. She said their joy is immeasurable. She also said that to these children, having their own chair means attending classes for the first time, visiting the local health center for treatment, or going to places where they can have fun with friends.
Whelan added that the wheelchairs provided an economic opportunity or benefit. With the children having their chairs to move around and become less dependent, parents are able to go back to work or find a job to support the family.
In 2010, the foundation decided to stop producing standard child-sized wheelchair. Instead, they started manufacturing wheelchairs that are designed for rough terrains. The new wheelchairs are adjustable and can fit to all sizes.
With the foundation’s effort and their volunteers’ dedication and passion, 30,000 wheelchairs have already been produced and shipped overseas. 30,000 children are now enjoying their own chairs and their gained freedom and independence.