Monday, February 18, 2008

Wheelchairs! Wheelchairs! Wheelchairs

Wheelchair Distribution Project

After 6 months of work we finally got to distribute wheelchairs to handicapped people who are unable to afford their own chair.

Last June we started looking for someone who could manufacture tricycle wheelchairs here in Kinshasa. We had our morning prayers and asked Heavenly Father to help us find someone that could help us in finding a good partner. That afternoon Dr. Meliela, an OBGYN doctor here in Kinshasa (also the 1st counselor in the Mission Presidency) came to our office on his way to a meeting and said he thought he ought to introduce himself to us and offer his help. We told him about trying to find someone to manufacture wheelchairs and he gave us the name of a medical supply distributer and also the director of a local handicap center. We told him we had been praying for someone to guide us in the right direction and here he was.

We met with both facilities and ended up using the supply house as the resource for making the hospital beds for the handicap center (see previous blog) and then partnered with the handicap center for the wheelchairs.

The handicap center is very knowledgeable about making the tricycle wheelchairs as they have been doing it for the last 20 years. They have revised their design to meet the needs of the rough terrain here in the Congo and have upgraded their materials so that the chairs are sturdy and last a long time.

The church wanted to supply wheelchairs to people who were unable to afford their own chair. The social work department at the center screened all the candidates to make sure that they were indeed dependent on donations to get a chair. The cost of each chair was $330, well beyond most budgets when they are struggling to buy food to survive. The church usually looks at paying $150 per chair in other countries but in the Congo the price is higher. Supplies for the wheelchairs, wheels, sprockets, gears, etc. are brought in from Belgium and Germany. The church had funded 50 wheelchairs as a trial to see if the center could come through with a quality wheelchair.

The day was sunny and hot. We expected 25 recipients to show up for the chairs. The problem of transportation precludes many people from coming to the center to receive their chair. The staff had decorated the area where the chairs were to be distributed with flowers and bright Congolese fabric. The hospital administration gathered along with the Stake President (Pres. Iyomi), Area Authority (Elder Kola), Mission President (Pres. Livingstone), Dr. Muliela (our mentor) and missionaries assigned to Kinshasa.. We had asked the young missionaries to come and help distribute the wheelchairs.

Pres. Iyomi presented the wheelchairs to the recipients telling them the reason the church was giving them a chair. He told them that we are all children of our Heavenly Father and that we should help one another in carrying our burdens and strengthen one another to reach our potential.

John Baptist, Hospital Director, addressed the recipients and told them that the wheelchair was their opportunity to become independent and productive. They should not waste this opportunity but seek ways to improve their lives and bless their families.

Each recipient signed a register acknowledging receipt of their new chair and then they were helped into their chair by hospital staff, church dignitaries and the young missionaries.

One proud young man came up and the staff reached to help him but John Baptist held them back and told them to give him some dignity and we watched him struggle to get into his new chair. Once he was in his chair he grinned real big and waved at everyone, gratitude written all over his face.

There was much happiness, many tears, high fives and joyous clapping from the people as they wheeled themselves away and realized the value of mobility. There were many tears shed by those who witnessed this miracle and everyone felt blessed for having had the experience.

We presented the check for the wheelchairs to John Baptist and breathed a sigh of relief that the work of the last 6 months had finally produced the outcome of helping people in need. We were so pleased with the work of the handicap center staff: pleased with their ability to make a good strong wheelchair, pleased with their screening process to find the most in need, and their graciousness in accepting the sacred humanitarian funds for such a worthy project.

On Sunday in the fast and testimony meeting in the Limite Ward, one of the recipients bore his testimony. He said that he had been given many blessings since joining the church. This week a great blessing had come to him because of his membership. He had been given a wheelchair from the church sponsored distribution. He was poor and he never felt he would ever be able to afford a wheelchair and here today he had a wheelchair. That was only one of his blessings since he became a member and he was very grateful for the love of Heavenly Father who knew who he was and was mindful of his needs.

The stake Presidents were asked if there were members in their stakes who were handicapped and would benefit from a wheelchair. We were given 6 members names that we asked the handicap center to screen for receiving a wheelchair. This man was one of those recipients.

This day of distribution was a great payday for us and one we will never forget. We hope to repeat it again before we return home. The center has an endless list of people who need these wheelchairs and they are grateful for the support that the LDS church is willing to give to help them meet their goals for caring for the handicap.

We are grateful to find such a good partner as the handicap center that is doing so many good things.


Scarehaircare said...

This made me teary - thanks for the pictures and the report.

Kimberly said...

This gave me a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes.

Howard Collett said...

Fantastic story and photos. Thanks for your great work in Africa.