How this all started
This all started in 2003, when our friend Richard made his first trip to Israel and the West Bank to volunteer with a local NGO distributing wheelchairs. Richard has over fifty years experience in building and refurbishing wheelchairs and is a specialist in pediatric seating. Being out of the U.S. wasn’t unusual for Richard who had spent many years volunteering with distributing wheelchairs in many parts of the world, such as Guatemala, Peru, Kenya, Jamaica, Romania, just to name a few. It was in this region, however, that something happened to him that hadn’t in any other of his travels. Richard discovered his true calling—“giving and showing love for a part of the world that sometimes doesn’t get a lot of love.”
On returning home to the US, he asked five of his closest friends to pray with him about this “calling.” After much prayer and discussion, all agreed that God was indeed leading—and joined him in taking up the banner for physically disabled, non-ambulatory children in the Middle East. During the next six years, what is today Wheelchair Angels International, started to take shape by searching for feasible and realistic responses to the enormous needs that we encountered among the handicap reality in the Middle East.
On October 5, 2009, Wheelchair Angels was incorporated in the State of Montana, and later granted IRS 501(c)(3) nonprofit status in September 2011. In 2015, its operational name was changed to Wheelchair Angels International.
In 2009, the new organization’s goal was to take one hundred wheelchairs to the West Bank. Through its efforts to contact therapists in the West Bank the team identified a need far greater than imagined.
Many trips followed and in 2011 Richard moved to Israel to begin his work volunteering with Lifegate Rehabilitation Center, heading up the Helping Aids program. He trained local technicians to work side by side with the Wheelchair Angels specialist in producing specialized equipment needs. The collaboration between Wheelchair Angels and Lifegate permitted that Wheelchair Angels set up its manufacturing and referral headquarters in Lifagate’s Beit Jala facility.
Referrals came from many facilities throughout the West Bank including pediatric hospitals and clinics and many medical type service NGOs. Wheelchair Angels also lectured to university physical/occupational therapist students on wheelchair fitting and wheelchair maintenance, and continued to train its local technicians.
In 2012, Wheelchair Angels was asked to collaborate in a wheelchair distribution in Jordan, organized by a local NGO. Our team helped in fitting the wheelchairs, but also in organizing training programs in fitting and maintenance for the local NGOs and communities. Many of the participants in these wheelchair distributions were refugees from Jordan’s neighbouring countries (Syria, Iraq and the Palestinian Territories).
This collaboration continued in the years that followed. In Jordan, Wheelchair Angels has collaborated with various NGOs such as Eleanor’s Project, Global Mobility, and Joni and Friends (Wheels for the World).
This same year, Wheelchair Angels was also asked to collaborate in a wheelchair distribution in the Kurdistan region in northern Iraq, organized by the NGO Samaritan´s Purse with the support of local representatives. In this distribution, two hundred wheelchairs were custom adapted and delivered to children in the village of Halabjai. In 1989 Halabjai was bombed by Sadam Hussein with poisonous gas and bombs. More than 5,000 residents were immediately killed. Some of the children seen for wheelchairs were directly affected by this chemical genocide.
The following year, Wheelchair Angels returned to Halabjai to help custom adapt one hundred more wheelchairs.
In early 2014, Wheelchair Angels was approached by the NGO Joni and Friends, requesting help for a wheelchair training/distribution in the village of El Minya, Egypt.
Upon arrival, the Wheelchair Angels team began its work by sorting several hundred wheelchairs for seven days of distribution and custom adaptation of the chairs to children as well as adults. Our team also spent considerable time educating local persons on how to adjust and repair wheelchairs, then left a complete set of necessary tools and spare parts to help in the process.
In the fall of 2015 Wheelchair Angels International again headed to Jordan and collaborated in its biggest wheelchair distribution to date. Over a period of seven days, a team of fourteen Wheelchair Angels members, who came to Jordan from the US and from the West Bank, custom adapted and distributed seven hundred wheelchairs.
In the distributions in the West Bank, Wheelchair Angels International has collaborated with NGOs such as Hope Haven International Ministries, ROC wheels and Global Mobility.
Since Wheelchair Angels started its operations in the Middle East in 2009,
it has shipped and distributed free custom adapted wheelchairs to approximately 1,200 children and adults in the West Bank. In collaboration with other NGOs that number goes up by 2,500 wheelchairs. That´s a total of 3,700 lives that we directly transformed in the last ten years.
In the next ten years, our goal is to continue to grow, continue to touch and transform lives, continue to spread the love and the smiles. Our goal is that all with whom we come into contact will go away not only with a wheelchair, but happier and more confident and hopeful.