Rotary clubs around the world change the lives of millions of people every year.  Preventing polio, providing clean water sources, medical missions and education are all vitally important projects.  But sustainable improvements on the health and welfare of communities around the world are Rotarian’s greatest achievements.

The Rotary Club of Springdale, Arkansas and Rotary District 6110 can be very proud of their commitment to providing mobility to thousands of families around the world in the form of wheelchairs.  These wheelchairs allow children to go to school, adults to go to work and provide for their families, and the elderly to get out of a bed they may have been confined to for years.  Answering prayers and making dreams come true for entire families is the immediate result of these efforts.

In the spring of 2012, Rotarians and their families from Springdale, Rogers, Mountain Home, Tulsa and other areas of District 6110 traveled to Guanajuato, Mexico to celebrate their 10th annual wheelchair distribution mission.  The previous year was Jamaica, the year before Panama.  Costa Rica and cities in Mexico go back to the first trip to Tepic, MX in 2003.

Each relief container delivered contains 280 brand new wheelchairs.  In the United States, each wheelchair would sell for over $500 in a medical supply store.  But because they are purchased directly from a supportive manufacturer and shipped by entire containers to the country of destination, these wheelchairs can be sponsored and delivered for only $150 each.

The Springdale club, community and clubs of 6110 have sponsored the delivery of more than 7,500 wheelchairs in the past ten years.  It is estimated that each wheelchair delivered changes and improves and average of ten lives.  This means more than 75,000 people have been touched by the generosity of these Rotarians and their communities.  Canes, crutches and walkers have also been delivered, helping people get around in an easier, more independent way.

Dedicated Rotarians act like dominoes: when one gets involved in a project, the affect spreads out within their family, community and orbit of friends and associates.  A perfect example is Jim Crouch of the Springdale club.  His wife Cathy inspired the “Tyson Tigers” at John Tyson Elementary School to participate in raising money for wheelchairs, and in the past seven years has raised over $50,000 with their annual “Walk for Wheels.”  Jim and Cathy’s son John completed a 1,700-mile “Biking for Wheels” ride from New York to Springdale, raising $2,300 along the way.  The Crouch family have made an incredible difference in many, many lives.

What does a container of 280 wheelchairs do to a community in a developing country?  It allows people who have been rarely seen come out into the world and participate in family activities, visit neighbors, go to worship services, go to work and school.  The influence of all this new-found mobility causes villages and towns to adapt to the influx or return of good teachers and workers, kids in school, and the elderly who share the wisdom of their lives with the next generations.

Access ramps are built so wheelchair users can get in and out of public areas and buildings.  We have seen this extensively in Mexican cities and towns.  Job opportunities are circulated through social workers and churches so the very capable people who suffered an injury that caused their inability to walk, can be productive for both the employers and their families.

In 2003, man named Xavier received a wheelchair in the city of Tepic, MX from the Springdale Rotarians on their first delivery mission.  He had been injured in a fall and was confined to a bed for years without the ability to buy a wheelchair, or move within his house unless someone moved him.  A year later, Springdale Rotarians returned to Tepic with more wheelchairs, and Xavier came to thank them.  He told them he was now working for the city government as an advocate and advisor on the needs of the physically disabled people in their community.  He was earning money and providing for his family.  The city created this position for him because he was an extremely capable and charismatic person who wanted nothing more than to help others in the same position he was in before he received his wheelchair.

The influence of this newly mobile man caused the city to adapt its thinking and structure to allow for the inclusion of very talented and capable people with physical disabilities.

The “Leg Up Affect” is when a man like Xavier receives a wheelchair, gets a job and is able to provide for himself and his family.  This also includes the ability to earn enough money to service and repair the wheelchair he was given.  Each container of wheelchairs comes with numerous spare parts for maintenance and repair, but reports from the field over a number of years indicates the people who are able to earn a living because of their wheelchair, are also able to maintain, repair and replace it if necessary.

The most recent trip to Guanajuato included working with the local Teleton Rehabilitation Center for Children (Centro de Rehabilitacion Infantil Teleton or CRIT).  There are 22 world-class CRIT centers throughout Mexico who have treated more than 70,000 physically and intellectually disabled children since their establishment in 1996.  The number of centers is growing yearly due to their very successful telethon that is broadcast annually throughout Mexico.

The visiting Rotarians and family members helped distribute more than 200 wheelchairs at the CRIT center to children from towns and villages up to 80 miles away from Guanajuato.  They also split up and visited some homes to deliver wheelchairs to the children who could not make it to the CRIT that day.

In addition to the Guanajuato CRIT being the official distribution partner of the American Wheelchair Mission, they also have participated with AWM for the past three years in a “Lifelong Mobility” study conducted by Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Pittsburgh and Mercyhurst University.  The ongoing research is funded by the Benter Foundation, and will determine the best possible design modifications for wheelchairs being distributed to children in Mexico, and has developed a set of protocols to repair, reuse, retrofit or recycle wheelchairs being used by patients of the CRIT centers.   This pilot program in Guanajuato will allow a child to always have a maintained and working wheelchair, and therefore be able to enjoy “Lifelong Mobility.”  The repair shop for the wheelchairs was built at the CRIT, and much of the vital equipment and tools needed were funded by a $4,500 grant supplied by the Rotary Club of Springdale.

The commitment of Springdale, their community, and the 6110 Rotarians has set all time records for a sustained impact on physically disabled people in developing countries and impoverished areas.  Communities have begun to think differently about people in wheelchairs, and appreciate their abilities.  Children go to school and laugh and play with their friends, where they never could before.  Entire families rejoice because of the simple ability to take their elderly members outside to sit in the sun, and tears of joy are shed because we have answered their prayers and made their dreams come true.