Health

Working for wheels

JACQUELINE LYNCH

June 10, 2014

If volunteers at the Wheelchairs for Kids foundation made six million wheelchairs, it still wouldn’t be enough for all the children who need a wheelchair around the world.

This doesn’t stop Wheelchairs for Kids working hard to build wheelchairs for as many kids as possible.

The charity began in 1998 when the Scarborough Rotary club adopted an idea, from the Surfers Sunrise Rotary Club in Queensland, to make wheelchairs for disabled children in underprivileged countries.

In cooperation with the Christian Brothers, a workshop was set up in the northern Perth suburb of Wangara and over time the idea grew into what it is today.

With the first wheelchairs being made from bits and pieces of old bicycles, the new models are now made out of aluminium.

The wheelchairs are adjustable as a child grows and come with two handmade rugs and a soft toy.

The charity has made and donated more than 28,000 wheelchairs to disabled children in 71 different countries.

Olly Pickett at the workshop

For many years Brother Olly Pickett has invested a great amount of time and thrown his heart and soul into making wheelchairs.

Despite his crook ankles, Brother Pickett spends his weekdays on his feet or in his chair moving frantically around the workshop to make sure everything runs smoothly.

“I saw a little girl in East Timor was doing somersaults to get around …,” he tells InkWire.

“She couldn’t walk.

“She has polio and her legs just wouldn’t work…

“We gave her a wheelchair and the smile on her face said it all.”

The Wheelchairs for Kids organisation makes about 275 wheelchairs a month, which costs about $40,000.

A portion of the group’s funding comes from a recycling program where people can bring in aluminium cans.

The money gathered from recycling goes directly into making wheelchairs.

Other funding comes from donations and sponsorships.

Volunteer Tony Maden says the group is 100 per cent non-profit.

“The pay is bloody awful, but the reward is good,” Mr Maden says.

Most volunteers at the factory are retired men and women from all different trades.

Husband and wife team Bob and Barbara Brown have been volunteering at Wheelchairs for Kids for about seven years.

Bob Brown

Mr Brown works as a quality control checker, assembling the wheelchairs to make sure the parts fit together perfectly before they are packed away.

As an ex-Vietnam veteran he says his experiences during the war provide a strong motivation to work hard.

He says there are still children born with birth defects in Vietnam as a result of the extremely toxic Agent Orange herbicide used by the US military during the war to strip jungle cover.

“I get a lot of satisfaction out of knowing that the wheelchair is going to a third world country which a little child would make use of,” he says.

Mrs Brown sorts through piles of knitting, patchwork and soft toys that are donated from all across Western Australia.

“My favourite thing is just knowing that what I’m doing is going to go to a little child,” she says.

“So, when I bag my rugs I try to make it special, because it’s going to a special little person at the other end.”

Mrs Brown’s workroom houses piles of perfectly knitted rugs and soft toys that have been sent in.

On the wall of her workshop are photographs of children who have received a chair. Despite their disabilities, most of the kids have big smiles on their faces, knowing their lives have taken a turn for the better.

Volunteer Max Butt says the project is a unique and special way of helping children achieve what they think to be impossible.

“We build 3000 wheelchairs a year, roughly, Mr Butt says.

“And that means that 3000 kids in a third word country are going to probably get off the ground for the first time.”

Photography by Jacqueline Lynch

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