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Imagine this. You’re sitting in bed. Your family is heading to the store. You’d like to go too, but you can’t. Because you need a wheelchair to live your life, but you don’t have one. That is the reality for millions of people worldwide.
According to WheelchairFoundation.org, less than 10% of people in third-world, or developing countries who need a wheelchair, have access to one. But one tri-state organization is working to change that.
“And there are so many people, 70 million people in the world that need a wheelchair. Only 10 million of them have a wheelchair,” said Luke Russell, with Hope Haven International Ministries. “So there’s 60 million people that desperately need mobility. Because mobility gives the gift of hope. You can go to school, you can get a job, and you can be part of the community. It’s a desperate need.”
Hope Haven International Ministries is a non-profit organization that helps provide disability and mobility aids to people all over the world.
“We have shipped to 109 countries throughout the world, we’ve sent 140,000 wheelchairs, and we’re actually partnering in Kenya and many other countries,” said Russell. “It’s an exciting opportunity because the need is so large.”
At their facility in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, volunteers build wheelchairs by hand, that will then be shipped worldwide to those who need them most.
“I come Monday and Tuesday afternoons for two or three hours at a time, and I help make the parts for the wheelchairs,” said Rick Thorson. “And then I also helped to assemble the sides or the bottoms of the wheelchairs.”
Rick Albrecht is one of those volunteers. He’s dedicated much of his life to giving back, joining Hope Haven earlier this year.
“It’s a local, a local charity, and you can actually see what you’re doing,” said Albrecht.
“I do the stuff that allows others to manufacture the parts. I get it set up,” Scott Thorson is another volunteer. He’s not only built these wheelchairs, which can adapt and grow with their person, but he’s also traveled the world to see Hope Haven’s impact for himself.
“I went to Vietnam, and we did a distribution,” said Thorson. “And it was like, the second to the last person that comes in was brought in by a family member, I don’t know who. And he was determined to get a wheelchair. He was trying to get up to the platform where the wheelchairs were. And then he got brought back and it took a while to fit him because he was a six foot two guy in Vietnam, that’s pretty tall.”
In South Sioux City, Nebraska, Rolando Luna has been working to bring wheelchairs to his native country of Peru.
“In Peru, there are over 3.4 million people with disabilities,” said Luna. “The aid that the government provides is not enough, for that many people with disabilities. That is why we want to build a wheelchair factory in Peru.
In 2015, Luna and Hope Haven delivered over 400 wheelchairs to Peru. Now, Luna started his own non-profit, called Path of Hope, with the goal of building a wheelchair factory in Peru to not only bring mobility to his home country but jobs, too.
“Hope Haven has partnered with Path of Hope to hopefully produce the Hope Haven Kid Chair so that we can supply people in Peru and other countries in South America with much, much-needed wheelchairs,” said Russell.
In Spring 2024, Hope Haven and Path of Hope will be delivering 200 more wheelchairs to Peru, with a team of physical and occupational therapists, mechanics and other volunteers on hand to ensure each wheelchair is fitted properly. Something they do with every delivery they make, bringing mobility, and spreading hope, worldwide.
“We have generous donors from throughout the world that see this need and see the need for the gospel of the spread,” said Russell.
Hope Haven began in Rock Valley, Iowa in 1964 and has since grown to several locations throughout Northwest Iowa and Southeast South Dakota. Each year they deliver and fit thousands of wheelchairs globally to those in need. Hope Haven relies on volunteers to make the Hope Haven kid chairs and refurbished wheelchairs.
Over the last 50 years, Hope Haven International Ministries has delivered more than 130,000 wheelchairs to people in more than 100 countries. In order to achieve their mission of bringing mobility to those in 3rd world countries, they rely heavily on volunteers.
From sewing to manufacturing new wheelchairs, to international trips to deliver and fit the Hope Haven Kid Chair, Hope Haven International Ministries is always looking for people who want to lend a hand.
“They can use any skill they have. we have people that so we have people that build wheelchairs, that drive for us,” explained Russell. “Anything that you are gifted in, we can definitely use. We all want to give back.”
Hope Haven also takes and repairs manual wheelchairs and other mobility aids to donate to others who need them. If you’d like to learn more about volunteering or donating to Hope Haven, and Path of Hope, you can visit https://www.hopehaven.org/volunteer/