A Story of Humanity and Servitude
By Mohammad Afzal Arain, MD
Immediate Past-President, Madera Sunrise Rotary
The author (with glasses) on the journey of humanity and servitude (left). Wheelchair recipients (right)
This was our seventh international humanitarian trip. The Madera Sunrise Rotary Club, under the leadership of Robert G. Bitter (past district governor), has been providing very organized help to the needy. We successfully raised funds for wheelchairs and the Wheelchair Foundation pioneered by Ken Behring’s establishment (which is reaching one million wheelchair donations to the needy and providing them with mobility) that provides a matching grant and wheelchairs are shipped to different countries. With the help of the local Rotary International Club members, the wheelchairs are distributed to various cities. Our team assembles the wheelchairs, helps seat the physically disabled, and adjusts the wheelchairs to their specific needs and donates them.
In many Third World countries, people are often ashamed of the disabled and treat them as less than human. A common belief is that people born with disabilities are being punished for the sins of the family, so both they and their families are stigmatized.
On our trip to Peru we saw a woman who had a stroke four years ago and had been confined to her home. When we lifted her into a wheelchair, she started to cry and said, “This is my car and most precious thing in my house, now I can go out and see the nature and talk to my neighbors.” She gave every one of us a small handmade gift. She was aware that I was a Muslim and gave me a gift different from the one she gave to other friends. I was very impressed by her sensitivity and respect for my faith.
The donated wheelchairs are sent in containers of 280. Any organization or group willing to sponsor an entire container of wheelchairs to a developing country can do so for $25,000. Though the total cost of a container is $50,000, the remaining $25,000 is matched by the Wheelchair Foundation. The groups typically pay their own way to deliver the wheelchairs and often combine the trip with other humanitarian donations or volunteer work.
Worldwide, there is an overwhelming need for wheelchairs – estimated at between 100 million to 200 million. Causes of physical disability include natural disasters, such as earthquakes, which have particularly devastating effects in Third World countries, car accidents, war injuries, advanced age and birth defects. The most horrific causes of disabilities are landmines.
The thanks and appreciations we get in return are so much more than what we are giving.
On our trip to Bolivia I remember an 80-year-old bed-ridden woman who had been a professor of sociology. She suffered from end-stage ovarian cancer. She was so appreciative that she had her students make special shirts for our Rotary members. She excitedly said, “Now I can use a wheelchair and do not have to be carried around.”
We have sent a container of wheelchairs to an orthopedic clinic in Afghanistan for the handicapped. With the help of APPNA (Association of Physicians of Pakistani Descent of North America) we sent four containers (1,120 wheelchairs worth $200,000) for the earthquake victims of Pakistan and Kashmir. In addition, we sent a container to Afghanistan. .
We have traveled to Mexico, Honduras, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, and our last trip was to Bolivia. To reach the underserved and the needy we traveled by buses on unpaved roads for 2,200 kilometers (or 1,367 miles). It was mostly hot and humid and our days were quite long and tiring. Our daily travel at times approximated a nine-hour bus ride. However, our work was very rewarding and fulfilling.
We traveled to many cities, including Santa Cruz, San Jose, Santiago, San Rafael, San Miguel, St. Ignacio, Concepcion, San Javier (Xavier), and Santa Cruz. We drove on to Charagua and San Antonio where we provided an electric wheel chair to a six-year girl Anita who was born without both legs and right arm. She immediately began to move the chair with her little left hand and started laughing. This brought tears to our eyes to see her enjoying the comfort and mobility of her new wheelchair. Our last stop was Montero.
After we returned home and rested for a few days we had forgotten all the hard times and have good memories of our service to goodwill and making friendships with people in a far away land. We are truly blessed to be in a position to help others. We are planning our next trip.