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A life-changing journey to Africa drove Dr. Don Schoendorfer to launch Free Wheelchair Mission, bringing mobility and transformation to the world’s underserved.
From the dust-filled roads of Morocco to the design labs of an MIT-trained engineer, Don’s story is certainly one of compassion, innovation, and divine objective. On this interview, we uncover the distinctive threads of his life that carry mobility, dignity, and hope to these usually neglected – and led to awarding him an AARP Function Prize.
What particular experiences or observations throughout your trip in Morocco impressed you to deal with the difficulty of mobility for folks with disabilities?
Once I was in Morocco in 1979, I noticed a fairly stunning scene of a lady crawling on the bottom, making an attempt to cross a dust street. I had by no means seen anybody crawl like that earlier than. She appeared like she was in ache as she would pull herself slowly throughout the bottom, inch by inch. Folks had been stepping over her and nobody stopped to assist. This picture caught with me till round 20 years later, after I determined to do one thing to assist.
Might you share a particular instance that highlights the transformation within the lives of the people who obtain wheelchairs and likewise their households?
In Chile, we went to a small residence the place a person in his 50s lived together with his mom. He was her full-time caregiver. We gave her a brand-new wheelchair, and after speaking to them extra, we realized that her mom additionally lived with them and wanted a wheelchair. We had been in a position to give her one as effectively.
“They might speak to one another via the partitions of their rooms for years as a result of they weren’t in a position to get off the bed and converse head to head.”
Everybody within the room was delivered to tears. They might speak to one another via the partitions of their rooms for years as a result of they weren’t in a position to get off the bed and converse head to head. However now, with the 2 wheelchairs, they may very well be secure and spend time collectively.
How does your religion activate your mission and your volunteers?
I’ve chosen to give up this complete mission to God as a result of I do know that it’s finally God’s work that we will be part of. From the start, I’ve gone to God in prayer when it got here to creating choices and because the group grew. I’m working for God, and I do my finest to replicate that to workers, volunteers, and donors. We’re delivering God’s work every time we give the life-transforming present of mobility.
“Thus far, we have now given out 1.4 million wheelchairs to youngsters, adults, and seniors in growing international locations around the globe.”
How did your background as an MIT-trained engineer affect the design and improvement of low-cost, mass-produced wheelchairs?
Being skilled at MIT gave me credibility within the area. I knew the worth of a prototype and knew methods to create one thing that will attraction to the consumer. Not solely was I trying to create one thing that appeared good, however I needed one thing sensible that will be most useful. Additionally, after having years of expertise within the medical business, I knew that I wanted to make one thing cheap. These elements all got here collectively after I was creating the wheelchair fashions. And at this time, a sturdy wheelchair will be constructed, shipped, and delivered for simply $96.
What does your “dream” wheelchair seem like? Is it your objective to make this concept a actuality for others?
Thus far, we have now given out 1.4 million wheelchairs to youngsters, adults, and seniors in growing international locations around the globe. Our wheelchairs at present are available in 4 sizes. Our distribution companions are skilled to regulate the wheelchairs to finest match every particular person upon receiving the wheelchair. I hope to in the future create one that may be simply adjusted by the one that receives the wheelchair, with no instruments wanted.
In previous interviews, you’ve talked about a “join the dots” method. Might you present extra perception into the way you utilized this system in your personal life and addressing mobility for folks in growing international locations?
I started to consider the issues that impressed me, my abilities, and the experiences that appeared like coincidences on the time. I couldn’t get the picture of the crawling girl in Morocco out of my thoughts. I had an engineering background. And, I had introduced a prototype of my first wheelchair design to India on a missions journey. From there, folks had been encouraging me to proceed that work. As I related this stuff, I started to comprehend that this was the trail that God was main me on.
What does “Ageing with Angle” imply to you?
I attempt to keep bodily match and wholesome as I age. Additionally, I do know that with age comes knowledge, however I attempt to mix this knowledge with the mindset that I’m nonetheless rising and studying new issues. That method, I can carry on offering wheelchairs for so long as attainable and assist the most individuals that I can.
Need extra information?
His e-book “Miracle Wheels: The Story of the Mission to Deliver Mobility to the World” will be discovered on Amazon.
Become involved or donate at FreeWheelchairMission.org.
Be taught extra and watch the dramatic video of his story right here.
Click on the hyperlink to find out about AARP’s Function Prize Program.
NaBeela Washington, an rising Black author, holds a Grasp’s in Artistic Writing and English from Southern New Hampshire College and Bachelor’s in Visible Promoting from The College of Alabama at Birmingham. She has been printed in Eater, The Cincinnati Assessment, and others. Be taught extra at nabeelawashington.com.
Photographs by Free Wheelchair Mission