During a trip to Hong Kong to attend the Electronic Retailing Association (ERA) 2007 Asia Conference, eighteen brave adventurers joined Chris Lewis and spent a very wet day on a bus traveling to the city of Guangzhou to participate in a wheelchair distribution.
The Guangzhou Charity Federation arranged to deliver some 40 wheelchairs to a facility that assists children with intellectual and physical disabilities. The wheelchairs were part of a 350-wheelchair donation that was provided by the Direct Response Industry for residents of Guangzhou, and pushed the number of wheelchairs provided worldwide by the industry to over 2,500 in just over one year.
ERA President and CEO Barbara Tulipane spoke at the distribution ceremony which was held in the meeting hall of the facility.
The visitors were invited to a wonderful lunch hosted by the Guangzhou Charity Federation, and then traveled north to visit the primary factory that supplies wheelchairs distributed worldwide by the global wheelchair mission. Either by complete coincidence, or very smart planning on the factory manager’s part, the wheelchairs that were being assembled had the DR Industry logo on the back and were slated for distribution in South Africa several weeks later. The group was very impressed with the quality, capacity, efficiency and cleanliness of the facility.
Several days later Steve Pittendrigh, Founder and CEO of InPulse Response Group, its President Lee Swanson, his wife Kathie and Electronic Retailer magazine publisher Gina Mullins-Cohen and Chris Lewis traveled to Vietnam to help distribute 260 wheelchairs sponsored by InPulse Response Group and their new parent company West Corporation.
The trip to Vietnam was the first for all of the attendees except for Lee Swanson. He was returning for the first time since being stationed in Vietnam some 38 years ago as an army lieutenant. This was quite a different reason to be interacting with the people of Vietnam. Lee and Steve jumped right in when people started arriving to receive their new wheelchairs. If carrying or lifting was needed, Lee and Steve were the first ones there. During the seating process and the speeches by the host organization (SAPP) and our distribution partner Roger Ferrell of Kid First Vietnam, it was clear to everyone there that Lee was enjoying this visit. Lee spoke to the audience of wheelchair recipients, family members and dignitaries about the positive feeling he had in just being there, and there was enthusiastic applause welcoming him and our team as friends of the people in need. The team received an equal welcome from an 81-year-old veteran of the French war who was wearing his military decorations on his pajamas when we arrived at his home. As it turned out, his wife had been unable to walk for many years, but his hip injury was very recent. Now the new wheelchair will be used by both husband and wife for their mobility needs.
The team traveled north to the city of Hue, situated near the banks of the Perfume River. This beautiful city was our gathering point prior to visiting the Kids First Village in Dong Ha and homes of people in need of wheelchairs.
The distribution of wheelchairs at the Kids First Village resulted in great stories being told of new lives ahead because of the wheelchairs. The newly designed mountain bike tires on the wheelchairs allowed for great speeds to be achieved during several wheelchair sprints across the terrace. An 18-year-old man told us that now he could try to find work somewhere in the field of computers. It was believed by several in attendance that his physical disabilities since birth were a genetic result of the chemical remnants of war in the region.
On the way back from Dong Ha the team was allowed to enter a Vietnamese veterans cemetery and memorial. It is a place of peaceful meditation for many visitors in the course of a week, month or year. But to the observers of Lee Swanson it was a reflective time in a place that he felt very strongly about visiting. The events of the previous days allowed Lee to connect on a very human level with people that suffered the struggles of immobility in their lives until his group arrived to change all that. The gratitude and happiness in the eyes of the wheelchair recipients and their families told Lee, Kathie, Steve and Gina that gestures of peace and friendship need no translation or explanation. It is tempting to be selfish and hold onto the handshakes and hugs for longer than they last, but the truth is that there are more to be had every time we reach out and change the life of a person and family in need of mobility.