LENDING SUPPORT – Rotary Club members (from left) Neil Swensrude and Garnet Ward

LENDING SUPPORT – Rotary Club members (from left) Neil Swensrude and Garnet Ward

Rotary Clubs prep for ‘wheels in motion’ Mexico mission

Members team up with Wheelchair Foundation in developing countries

  • Nov. 14, 2012 4:10 p.m.

Overwhelming generosity and support have paved the way for an upcoming Rotary Club mission to Mexico to exceed expectations.

This February, members of local Rotary Clubs will be marking the 10th anniversary ‘Wheels in Motion’ Wheelchair Distribution partnership to Huatulco, Mexico.

It marks a partnership with several Rotary Clubs including those of Sylvan Lake, Rocky Mountain House, Okotoks, High River, Red Deer East, Red Deer Centennial, Lacombe Daybreak, Northbrook – Illinois and the Rotary Club of Huatolco.

Rotary Clubs have long been involved with the Wheelchair Foundation of Canada in working to provide wheelchairs to those in dire need.

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.

That first initiative was born largely out of a partnership between the Sylvan Lake and Red Deer East clubs, and they’ve spearheaded the 2013 trip as well, he said.

“The big thing is that we set out initially to raise $21,000,” he said. “Very quickly, we exceeded that. So we said let’s plan for a container worth $42,000. We had that money contributed.

“Ultimately, we then said let’s do a full container for $42,000 and half a container for $16,000. We ended up at $60,000 that was contributed to us by many, many individuals.” That provides for a total of 390 wheelchairs.

With the added wheelchairs, their mission to Mexico has also expanded geographically.

“We’re also going into Oaxaca with 110 wheelchairs,” he said. “We are taking 30 people – a large contingent of Rotarians and family members. Half of them are going to spend the first week in Huatulco and the other half of us will spend one week in Huatulco and one week in Oaxaca.”

The difference that the gift of a wheelchair makes for a person with mobility issues – particularly in a developing country – is hard to put into words. It’s been estimated that at least 100 million children, teens and adults worldwide need a wheelchair but cannot afford one.

Garnet Ward, also a member of Rotary East, said the it’s hard to put into words the experience of seeing someone in such need finally receive a wheelchair.

“To lift someone who has been crawling on the ground or who has been pulled around in a wheelbarrow, when you lift them into a wheelchair, you realize they are now mobile.”

It may not be wheelchair-accessibility like we are used to here, but it makes an extraordinary difference, he said.

Ward, who was also part of the 2003 mission, said garnering support for the project has been relatively easy, as people are amazed at how their contributions can go so far.

“The Wheelchair Foundation matches it, and that’s how it happens.”

A contribution of $150 will ship a wheelchair virtually anywhere on planet earth.

“You can give the gift of mobility for that amount of money.”

Ward also pointed out that when one person gets a wheelchair, up to 10 others are positively impacted. That would include friends, family and caregivers.

“If that person can now get around, others don’t have to worry about lifting them, carrying them – whatever the case may be.”

As Swensrude said, the mission has an incredibly personal dimension as well.

“We don’t just take 280 wheelchairs and say ‘Here, good luck with them.’ We uncrate every single wheelchair, we assemble it and we put every individual in the chair. We train them and their caregivers on the operation of the wheelchair as well. It’s a big thing, as a lot of people have never seen a wheelchair before.”

Bringing along local folks who have never visited a developing country before is also fulfilling, he said.

“What’s also really exciting is that we will have people who have never been on a humanitarian mission before. It’s the people that are able to participate that also make it such a worthwhile endeavour.”

Meanwhile, Swensrude has 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.

It’s been a joy to see the vision for the project grow by leaps and bounds.

“Originally when we started this, it was to deliver 40 wheelchairs 10 years ago. We’re now at 2,426 wheelchairs.”

Check out www.cdnwheelchair.ca.