This week we are with Dennis and Donna Smith from Forks, WA (yes, the home of Twilight….) who are two of the wheelchair specialists for the Church (There are about eight.) He’s a retired hospital administrator and she a school psychologist and they spend a lot of time traveling to the Philippines, Cambodia, and Indonesia working with various partners distributing wheelchairs to those who need them.
The way LDS Charities works is that we do not actually distribute wheelchairs ourselves. We simply do not have the infrastructure to do so. So we work with various partners around the workd and one of our big partners is United Cerebral Palsy. They have organizations and ‘boots on the ground’ in a lot of countries and we supply funds for them to purchase and distribute chairs. UCP-RUK is the Indonesian arm of United Cerebral palsy and they distribute about 5,000 wheelchairs a year. (The statistical need worldwide is approximately 1% of the population – so here would be about 2.5 million chairs.) So we are barely scratching the surface.
So we started the week meeting with the new leaders of UCP-RUK in their offices in Jogja. Simon, the warehouse manager in the red shirt, is from England, so communicating with him is VERY easy!! (He’s unusual in that he is non-Indonesian and has a job. Non-Indonesians cannot work in Indonesia except in very unusual circumstances – but he has been here for many years, works for a not-for-profit and is married to an Indonesian – all of which goes to letting him get a work permit.)
The wheelchair effort is TRULY life changing for these people. In Indonesia, there are very few social services. In the US, if you are blind, deaf, immobile through an accident, Cerebral Palsy or other issue, there are services and programs to help you cope. Here, there is almost nothing and they have to rely on the volunteers and NGO’s (Non-Governmental Organizations) to provide anything. Many of those who are disabled or cannot walk do not go to school, and do not work, so they simply stay at home and do nothing. They are absolutely ‘invisible’. So sad…so LDS Charities works with UCP and others to try and alleviate some of the suffering and put people in chairs and give them a life.
So, in addition to having a wheelchair and being mobile, this man (who was at the UCP office) as you an see, has a modified motorcycle. He wheels his chair onto the ramp, slides over to the bike and off he goes. In another blog, I will write about Sri, who has a similar set-up and is truly an inspiration!
After our meeting, we toured the UCP warehouse and facilities:
Tuesday we did some home visits in order to do some follow-up evaluations of the chairs, see how the recipients are using their chairs, if they are happy with them, etc.
A Tender Mercy
But first, a side story of a “tender mercy” of the Lord and how there are NO coincidences:
Sunday, we went to Church in the Jogja Ward (yes, it’s all in Indonesian and no, we did not understand, other than the Spirit, which is universal.) One of the things the Smith’s needed to do was hire someone in the ward to do about 60 of the evaluations. So they thought they would meet with the Bishop after Church to see if there was someone in the ward who needed a job, who could speak English, who had transportation, who was dependable, etc. etc. We were waiting for the Bishop and I started visiting with Rian, just making conversation. Turns out, he’s a returned missionary (he served here in Indonesia), has been at BYU-Hawaii for the past two years (so his English is better than excellent), and just came home a few months ago to help take care of his father (who had had a stroke and is in a wheelchair) and yes, he was looking for work. Today, he was going to go home immediately after Church but felt impressed to hang around for a few minutes and in that time, we started talking. In addition to speaking Indonesian (obviously) and English, he also speaks Javanese, the local dialect. So we asked if he was interested, and he said ‘absolutely’, so he was hired on the spot. As we told him later he was an answer to prayer – and he told us we were an answer to his prayers!!
So Rian met us Tuesday morning and went with us to get some on-the-job training in filling out the follow-up evaluation form. We drove high up into the hills to visit some chair recipients and to start Rian on his training. One of the reasons the UCP folks wanted to take us so far up in the hills was to show how well the Roughrider works on very difficult terrain.
It is very hard to describe the feeling of seeing these folks receive a chair and the freedom and independence it gives them! They are so grateful and the family is as well because they see their children being able to go to school, play with their friends, socialize, work, etc. To think that we get to play a very small part in this is so satisfying!