COMPASSION – Margo Swensrude

Rotary Clubs mark anniversary of mission

Members team up with Wheelchair Foundation in developing countries

Members of local Rotary Clubs will be marking an extremely meaningful anniversary early next year when they embark on a mission to Mexico.

The 10th anniversary ‘Wheels in Motion’ Wheelchair Distribution partnership to Huatulco, Mexico is slated for next February. This hands-on distribution marks a partnership with several Rotary Clubs including those of Sylvan Lake, Rocky Mountain House, Okotoks, High River, Red Deer East, Red Deer Centennial and the Rotary Club of Huatolco.

Christiana Flessner, executive director of the Wheelchair Foundation of Canada, recently spoke to members of the Rotary Club of Red Deer East about her latest experiences helping to distribute wheelchairs in Indonesia. With the help of Rotary Clubs from around the globe, the Foundation has been able to deliver more than 895,000 wheelchairs worldwide.

Rotary Clubs have long been involved with the Foundation in working to provide wheelchairs to those in such dire need. And besides making a profound difference in the lives of poverty-stricken, disabled people, Flessner said the impact of providing wheelchairs is far-reaching on overall social and economic levels as well.

“It’s not just an aid item. These are tools for sustainable development, and for social and economic development as well. Every wheelchair you give to a young man who has a spinal cord injury, for example, means he can go to work, earn a living, and then his children can go to school. It has a large trickle-down effect.”

Flessner also showed a video detailing the amazing difference that a wheelchair can make. Men and women who have struggled so much with mobility issues — in the midst of the constant challenges they face on other fronts — are able to enjoy a better way of life.

It’s been estimated that at least 100 million children, teens and adults worldwide need a wheelchair but cannot afford one. With polio still a serious health issue in many poor countries, some international organizations also believe that the number could be as high as 6% of the population of developing countries. Besides their work in delivering wheelchairs, Rotarians have also been leading the private sector in the effort to rid the world of this crippling disease. A potentially fatal infectious disease, polio still strikes children mainly under the age of five in countries in Asia, Africa and the eastern Mediterranean region.

Neil Swensrude, a member of the Rotary Club of Red Deer East and project co-chair, is thrilled for the opportunity to head back to Huatulco as he was part of the first trip back in 2003. “Looking at a picture from 10 years ago, we can remember the instant it happened – the joy and the tears from many of the participants who could not believe somebody was doing this for them,” he said. “It’s full circle. I can’t wait to go back.”

Swensrude has also been on wheelchair distributing missions to the Ukraine and the Philippines. He pointed out that those who join the mission pay all their own expenses, so any donations made go straight to the purchase of more wheelchairs.

Meanwhile, the goal for next year’s mission is to deliver 280 wheelchairs for a total cost of $42,000 ($150 each). Rotary clubs are busy raising funds for the project, and have already brought in more than $32,000.

Over the years, the Red Deer East club has delivered 2,314 wheelchairs, and besides Mexico, previous distributions have been made to Belize, South Africa, and Cuba among other nations.

More help is needed, and the public at large is invited to participate. Anyone wishing to contribute can call Neil Swensrude at 403-346-5235.

As Flessner pointed out, delivering wheelchairs is not only a blessing to those on the receiving end. The giver is richly blessed as well. “You’re not just giving help, you are giving of yourselves. You are giving from your hearts and showing that you care.”

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