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Church wheelchair donations changing lives around the world


Mandisa Madondo, 29, from Durban, South Africa, used to be uncomfortable and even unsafe in the oversized wheelchair she was using. Born with cerebral palsy, she has scoliosis and a leg-length discrepancy.

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Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Now in her new wheelchair, she is better positioned and has the proper support for her legs. Her new chair’s tray table allows her to eat with her family at mealtimes, and she can place her cellphone on it to communicate with her mother and caregivers.

Elder David Nish and Sister Theresa Nish, who are South African residents and local humanitarian missionaries with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, helped find the right wheelchair for Madondo. They said not only is she better off physically, more important, she is happy.

Sister Nish said a wheelchair is not solely a mobility device: “It enables the user to interact and integrate with their family and their community on an equal footing. Loneliness is a terrible scourge, especially felt by those persons previously physically isolated from family and friends and confined to beds in back rooms, through no fault of their own.” 

The Church has a long history of collaborating with local organizations to provide wheelchairs to children and adults around the world. Madondo is one of thousands of people in 62 countries whose lives have benefited in the past 12 months.

Recent donations

The Church donated 900 wheelchairs, 1,200 mobility aids, tools and training to local physiotherapists in Lenteguer, South Africa, in February. The program is run in partnership with the Western Cape Department of Health.

Babalo Pholose received a new wheelchair, saying he can now “go everywhere I want to go.” Without it, he would be confined to home and his bed because of spinal tuberculosis.

Bellville South Africa Stake President Paul Kruger explained that the donation was funded by contributions from Church members all over the world. “We are about empowering people … to lead happy and productive lives. We believe that loving and serving our neighbors is a true expression of Christianity to our neighbors.”

In March, the Church delivered 876 wheelchairs and 30 crutches in the Mexican states of Sonora, Oaxaca and Chihuahua. Hermosillo Mexico Stake President Isaac M. Carrillo Atondo and Area Seventy Elder Gregorio E. Casillas joined government leaders at the delivery ceremony.

The Church also held a three-day training session for social workers, physical therapists and others who care for people with disabilities. The participants said the training helped them feel better prepared, and it gave them more awareness about what it is like to live full-time in a wheelchair.

In April, the Church gave 341 wheelchairs to the Telethon Honduras Foundation in the San Pedro Sula region of Honduras. The donation included training members of the foundation’s team to assemble the different types of wheelchairs and make adjustments for each person. 

El Carmen Honduras Stake President Marvin I. Palomo Marmol said it is a privilege for the Church to help organizations that are dedicated to the service and well-being of others.

“Jesus Christ helped the most needy and dispossessed, as well as those who need faith and hope in times of need,” he said. “As members of the Church, we strive to follow the example of the Savior and love our neighbors with acts such as this.”

The proper fit

Eric Wunderlich, health care and disability consultant manager at Latter-day Saint Charities, said a wheelchair’s size, fit and purpose are crucial to meeting the needs of the recipients. 

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Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

“We are trying to help the organizations we support in the different countries move toward a standard of care outlined in World Health Organization guidelines,” Wunderlich told the Church News in January.

Each individual should be assessed to determine their physical needs and be provided a device that fits their environment, said Wunderlich. An improper fit could cause postural deformities or cause potentially life-threatening sores. If the wheelchair isn’t comfortable or doesn’t fit well, it won’t be used. And if it doesn’t work in their environment, the individual can’t go anywhere. 

WHO is a global body with these standards and guidelines, but Wunderlich said it is also how the Savior would serve people individually.

“I think part of the process of assessing individual needs, and determining what people need and serving people one by one, to me follows the example of the Savior,” said Wunderlich.

Sister Nish said collaboration and training around properly fitted wheelchairs are crucial. 

“It is indeed a great blessing to have both the opportunity and the responsibility to be the Lord’s agents for this wonderful humanitarian program,” said Sister Nish. “In turn, we also act as the wheelchair recipient’s advocate, thus enabling the fulfillment of their mobility needs. Their heartfelt and often speechless gratitude, so humbly portrayed, touches our hearts and souls.”

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