Rarely does it ever occur in a person’s life that they are presented with an opportunity to come to the rescue of a large population of people in need.
Never would I have guessed that upon my arrival in Iraq in November 2004, a movement would be set in motion soon thereafter to help improve (and in some cases save) the lives of hundreds of children with walking disabilities through the Wheelchairs for Iraqi Kids project.
I’m grateful for all those who have partnered with me over the last five years to help bring adjustable pediatric wheelchairs to a country full of families who had no access to them. I’m grateful to those who created and manufactured the pediatric wheelchairs, to those who donated and sponsored them, to those who brought them to Iraq free of charge, to those who risked their lives to organize and carry out missions so children in many parts of Iraq could receive them. In my biased opinion, this is one of the best stories of suffering and tragedy turned to relief and joy coming out of Iraq over the past five years. So many children from various backgrounds and faiths have received the pediatric wheelchairs from Reach Out and Care Wheels. Shiites, Sunnis, Kurdish, Christian, Yazidis , Assyrians, Chaldeans, Armenian Orthodox – all children are precious in God’s sight. And in my view, children with special needs living in war zones are truly the ‘least of these’ who are the most desperate in need of assistance. They are the most vulnerable segment of Iraqi society in need of help. Children with disabilities grow up watching brothers, sisters and friends learn how to ride tricycles, skateboards and bicycles, all the while they have watched despondently, grounded because of their disabilities. It’s like they’ve been left out as they’ve been condemned to a cruel fate of life alone on the ground, simply because their legs won’t work. They don’t get to participate in normal childhood activities; typically they’re ostracized from peer groups by default due to their disabilities. Imagine growing up, not learning the rules of football because you’ve never had the opportunity to play the game with the other kids. Imagine growing up not receiving an education, because your parents can’t be there every day to carry you around the school grounds. Many times these children are mentally aware and very bright, but aren’t afforded the opportunity to develop physically and socially because of their limited mobility.
As sad as their situation appears, I often see faces of children glow with wide smiles and big eyes as they enter the wheelchair distribution area and see their first set of wheels waiting for them. One boy told me in English as he sat in his wheelchair for the first time that it was his first bicycle. He was smiling from ear to ear – there was no way I could take away his joy at that moment. He may never ride a bike with two wheels, but a “bike” with four wheels is a blessing beyond his wildest dreams!