Canadian Wheelchair Foundation executive director Christiana Flessner is surrounded by soon-to-be-shipped wheelchairs in the CWF’s South Surrey storage room.

Wheelchair donation ‘gives people their lives back’

South Surrey-based Canadian Wheelchair Foundation aims to help refugees in Turkey.

By summer’s end, thousands of Syrian refugees in Turkey may receive the gift of mobility, thanks to the efforts of residents on the Semiahmoo Peninsula.

The Canadian Wheelchair Foundation – which has its head office at South Surrey’s Morgan Creek Corporate Centre – is in the early stages of a fundraising campaign which aims to send wheelchairs, canes, crutches and walkers to disabled refugees in the European country.

The goal, according to CWF executive director Christiana Flessner, is to fill a 40-foot shipping container with the items – especially wheelchairs – by the end of the summer, and have them shipped and distributed soon after.

The organization has a long history of helping mobility-challenged residents in developing countries; since 2012, the group has distributed nearly 40,000 wheelchairs to people in – among other places – Mexico, Nepal, Panama, Ukraine and Guatemala, as well as to those in need across Canada.

“We’ve covered a lot of ground,” said Flessner.

“It’s life-changing for these people. And not just for the people who receive (wheelchairs), but for their families and the people taking care of them, too, down to the friends who might carry an (immobile) child to school.

“It has a big impact.”

The wheelchairs that CWF ships, Flessner explained, are sturdier than a typical wheelchair in order to stand up to tougher terrain and conditions and last as long as possible. In a store, Flessner estimated it would cost “about six or seven hundred dollars” to buy a similar model, but the CWF can buy and ship one to a recipient for $195.

Typically, the CWF will partner will service organizations both here and in recipient countries – often Rotary clubs, of which there are five on the Semiahmoo Peninsula – to help distribute the items, and Flessner herself has been on a number of trips as well, including multiple trips in the last two years to Ukraine.

“I’ve also spent a lot of time in Germany – I have family there – and over the winter, I volunteered at one of the refugee registration centres,” she explained.

“I’ve learned a lot about displaced people, and their needs… it’s something that’s been close to my heart for a long time, because out in the field, I’ve seen a lot of forgotten people.

“I’ve noticed that governments in many developing countries don’t exactly put a high priority on people with disabilities. There’s just no support.”

In that regard, Flessner is encouraged by the recent creation, by the United Nations, of the Charter on Inclusion of Person with Disabilities in Humanitarian Action, which aims to improve the lives of many of the people the CWF is trying to help. The UN is also very supportive of the CWF’s efforts, she noted.

Flessner and other CWF supporters have seen firsthand the difference their work has on disabled people across the globe. A donated wheelchair allows people to get to school and work, while for some older recipients, simply gives them the opportunity to get outside their homes easier.

“Some people, they just want to be able to be able to go outside again,” Flessner said.

“It gives people their lives back. We’ve had children who’ve received our wheelchairs and for them, it’s their first independent movement ever.”

More than anything, Flessner said the wheelchair donations will provide hope to refugees who for months – even years – have had very little to smile about.

“People in these parts of the world have less hope and have been through so much,” she said.

“Sometimes I wonder if it’s the wheelchair that is good for them, or simply the idea that somebody is thinking and caring about them.”

For information on the Canadian Wheelchair Foundation and its current fundraising efforts for Turkey, visit www.cdnwheelchair.ca

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