Free Wheelchair Mission



Don Schoendorfer’s “Gen One” wheelchair looks like something cobbled together from assorted spare parts.

That’s because it is.

Don, a mechanical engineer from California, was vacationing in Morocco about 20 years ago with his wife.

His conscience was seared by an image he would never forget.  A local woman, paralyzed from the waist down, was crossing a busy street while lying flat on the ground, pulling herself forward by her fingernails.

Nearby beggars were jeering.

Schoendorfer returned to his comfortable Orange County home wondering how it was possible to put humans on the moon, build toddlers awesome Big Wheels, yet not provide disabled people the dignity of mobility.

He retreated to his garage and began tinkering.  How could he design a tough, inexpensive wheelchair, one that could be easily assembled out of parts readily available in most Developing World countries?

Such a wheelchair would have to be durable – sufficiently rugged to negotiate the uneven terrain commonly found in impoverished countries.

It would also have to be able to endure extremes of temperature and precipitation, since it might have to remain outdoors.

Schoendorfer’s tinkering succeeded brilliantly.

He took one of those seemingly indestructible plastic lawn chairs, mounted it on two mountain bike wheels, and attached an inexpensive pair of casters.  Today’s cost for a Gen One chair is about $80.

Then Don took a dramatic step.  In 2001, he quit his job and launched the Free Wheelchair Mission, a faith-based not-for-profit organization:

Schoendorfer points out that an estimated 100 million disabled people are likely to spend the next 24 hours unable to get around on their own.  “Already suffering from the pain, isolation, and indignity of a physical disability, many must endure further burdens.  Many are forced to live on the ground or must wait to be carried to meet their most basic needs.”

He asserts that mobility changes everything. “Mobility means independence, the ability to participate in society and earn a living. It means dignity, leaving behind the days of living on the ground and being an outcast.”

FWM’s audacious goal is to give away at least 100,000 free wheelchairs per year.  They are on track to contribute their one millionth chair by the middle of 2017.

How did all this happen?

A man whose heart was burdened to help disadvantaged people went into his garage and changed the world.

Peter Drucker speaks of the “citizen sector” – ordinary men, women, and children who are tackling global problems like poverty, disease, and malnourishment at their kitchen tables, turning a sense of call, ingenuity, and hard work into transforming new initiatives.

Do you have a gift to share?

If God has provided the burden, you can be sure of something else.

God will provide a way for you to share that gift with the world.

— Authored by Glenn McDonald

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