Being able to walk and go where you want to go is something that people who are healthy often take for granted. But for many, mobility is far from a given. More than 70 million people around the world need a wheelchair — but only five to 15 percent of them have access to one, according to estimates from the World Health Organization.
For the last 21 years, Free Wheelchair Mission has been trying to change that. The faith-based nonprofit in Irvine, Calif., manufactures low-cost, durable wheelchairs and then partners with organizations in developing countries to distribute them. Since it was started, Free Wheelchair Mission has given away more than 1.3 million wheelchairs in 94 countries.
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For the past 21 years, Free Wheelchair Mission has been trying to change that. The faith-based nonprofit in Irvine, Calif., manufactures low-cost, durable wheelchairs and then partners with organizations in developing countries to distribute them. Since it was started, Free Wheelchair Mission has given away more than 1.3 million wheelchairs in 94 countries.
“It’s life changing,” says Nuka Solomon, the organization’s CEO. For people with a disability, a wheelchair can mean the opportunity to go to school, she says, and greater dignity because their parent or partner no longer has to carry them on their back. “Or it could simply mean that you use the wheelchair to just get sunlight.”
This summer in a remote part of Brazil, Solomon met a young mother with multiple sclerosis. No longer able to walk, she was living in a care home at the foot of a mountain. Solomon says the wheelchair she received allowed her to reunite with her family.
The wheelchairs the organization makes are designed to be strong and capable of taking on a variety of terrains, such as gravel roads and dirt floors. The tires are similar to mountain-bike tires.
When Free Wheelchair Mission and its partners distribute the wheelchairs, they don’t know if they’ll ever see the people again, Solomon says. “So we need to make sure that what we’re giving them is going to last and is going to be able to withstand as much repair as possible.”
Here, with a new wheelchair, Maria, a young woman in Nicaragua enjoys greater independence and cares for her younger brother.