FFTP and Free Wheelchair Mission Give the Gift of Mobility
COCONUT CREEK, Fla. (Dec. 19, 2022) For much of his life, 13-year-old Antwoine, of Spanish Town, Jamaica, was isolated and bullied because of his disability and appearance. He now has greater mobility and a brighter outlook, thanks to a specially designed wheelchair he received from Food For The Poor (FFTP) and Free Wheelchair Mission.
Antwoine was among 19 people who received wheelchair donations from the charities, who became partners in June 2014. Since the collaboration began, they have shipped 36,000 wheelchairs to eight of the countries where FFTP works in the Caribbean and Latin America, including Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Jamaica, Haiti, Colombia and Guyana.
Born premature with cerebral palsy, Antwoine is unable to walk and suffers from vitiligo, which causes patches of skin to lose their natural color. Both made him an easy target for bullying so severe that he withdrew from school and went into isolation.
“He’s at home all day,” said Javier Ramirez, Senior Director of Procurement and Fulfillment. “I think he does have some classes at home, but that’s just not enough. If you could have a conversation with him, you would know how remarkable he is – he’s truly a wonderful young man.”
After receiving his wheelchair, Antwoine was so grateful that he offered a prayer of thanksgiving and blessings for the people who made it possible.
“Antwoine’s prayer was as if he was already a pastor, and it brought tears to everybody’s eyes,” said Ed Raine, FFTP President/CEO. “He inspires all of us and reminds us why our work has transformative power.”
Founded in 2001, Free Wheelchair Mission is a humanitarian, faith-based nonprofit that designs and manufactures durable, cost-efficient wheelchairs for 94 developing countries. Based in Irvine, Calif., the charity has distributed more than 1.3 million wheelchairs to people living with disabilities around the world in collaboration with a network of like-minded partners such as FFTP.
Don Schoendorfer, Founder and President of Free Wheelchair Mission, established the charity more than two decades after witnessing the struggle of immobility while on vacation in Morocco in 1977.
“Don remembered a scene that he saw in Morocco of a woman dragging herself along the ground,” said Free Wheelchair Mission CEO Nuka Solomon, who recently visited FFTP-Jamaica to see the project in action. “And as a biomedical engineer, he wanted to solve that problem.”
With an estimated 75 million people worldwide in need of wheelchairs, Free Wheelchair Mission is dedicated to providing mobility to people living with disabilities in developing countries.
Their wheelchairs provide mobility at a reasonable price and with a simple design strong enough to withstand regular use in the rugged terrain commonly found in developing countries. Many of the countries where FFTP and Free Wheelchair Mission work do not have sidewalks and roads for easy travel, or they have been destroyed by earthquakes, hurricanes or other disasters.
Since the initial rollout in 2001, the charity has developed three generations of wheelchairs. The latest version is foldable for easy storage, comes in four different sizes, and has 26-inch mountain bike wheels in the back and smaller wheels in front with large rubber castors for increased wheelbase and stability.
“We make it a point to have our wheelchairs designed in a durable fashion, so they’ll last,” Solomon said. “We use mountain bike tires so people can rely on a product that will last for some time and won’t break down.”
All wheelchairs are assembled after reaching their destination country, where they are fitted to meet each recipient’s specific physical requirements. Recipients and their families are trained to maneuver safely in the wheelchair.
“So many recipients have never had a wheelchair before,” Raine said. “They’ve been relying on crutches or literally just dragging themselves around on the floor, depending on the situation. For them, it’s not just a wheelchair – it’s a gift of mobility.”
To see a video of Raine interviewing Solomon about Free Wheelchair Mission and the organization’s collaboration with FFTP, please click here.
Free Wheelchair Mission is a humanitarian, faith-based, nonprofit organization that provides wheelchairs at no cost to people with disabilities living in developing countries. In collaboration with a network of like-minded partners, Free Wheelchair Mission has provided more than 1.3 million wheelchairs to those in need around the world since 2001, providing renewed dignity, independence, and hope through the gift of mobility. For more information, please visit www.freewheelchairmission.org.
Food For The Poor, one of the largest international relief and development organizations in the nation, does much more than feed millions of hungry children and families living in poverty primarily in 17 countries of the Caribbean and Latin America. This interdenominational Christian ministry provides emergency relief assistance, water, medicine, educational materials, homes, support for vulnerable children, care for the aged, skills training and micro-enterprise development assistance. For more information, please visit www.FoodForThePoor.org.