Why Wheels of Hope?
Al Bonney has been involved with Wheels of Hope since its inception in 2008, and has served as chair of the board since then. He first learned of the cause from Ann Lee Hussey, a polio survivor who had traveled to Nigeria with Rotary International. Ann Lee had spent time with Ayuba Gufwan, who sought to make wheelchairs for others like him — those who could not walk and needed mobility to make a life for themselves. Read more about the Wheels of Hope beginnings here.
In the following, Al reflects on the reasons that he got involved in Wheels of Hope and why he maintains that commitment to this day.
Talking with Ann Lee I learned that Ayuba’s process and his wheelchair shop was so simple and clear. There was no clutter and no glitz. One gave him $150, he built a wheelchair and gave it to a polio survivor and another person was mobile, had a new life and could lead a life of dignity for the rest of his life. It was that simple.
Ann Lee asked me to lead a grant application effort to benefit Ayuba and the Beautiful Gate Handicapped People’s Center. Now I was involved in the plan, and with skin in the game myself, I was off and running.
I’ve stayed involved all these years partly due to my visit to Nigeria in 2012. On that trip I spent three days in Jos and met Ayuba and his family. I worked in the shop for a day, met the workers and saw the process of building a wheelchair. I was also able to attend a wheelchair distribution ceremony where Ayuba delivered and presented wheelchairs to often 50-75 polio survivor recipients. During this ceremony I was able to sit (on the ground) and talk with some of the recipients – looking them straight in the eye. We talked about their work or school, their families and what the wheelchair would mean to them. At another level, Ayuba and I have become friends. He calls on the phone at least once a month. He has been to Traverse City twice to meet our board and talk with some neighboring clubs.
Getting close to Ayuba, the wheelchair construction process, and meeting the recipients galvanized my commitment that we were doing a good thing and it was a worthy effort that must continue. The initial clarity and simplicity of the project that attracted me in the first place continues, but now I understand it on a personal level and I know the value the wheelchairs bring to the recipient’s lives. Staying committed and involved has been easy; it has become part of my life.
Why Polio Survivors?
You may be thinking, didn’t we already cure polio? That’s partially true — we have a very effective vaccine. Most babies in the United States receive four doses before they are six years old. But what happens in other parts of the world? Countries without stable healthcare systems need a lot of help distributing vaccines, especially to remote, hard-to-reach communities. And when enough people don’t get the vaccine, an outbreak occurs.
There are currently more than 12 million polio survivors in the world today, with a vast majority of them in countries with unstable governments and no support networks. This means that disabled polio survivors cannot go to school, learn a skill, or get a job. They become a burden on their families and are often rejected because of it, and some must beg every day for what little income they can get.
A $150 wheelchair makes all the difference. Look at Muhammad Adamu, a 50-year-old father. Before receiving a wheelchair, he/she had to spend weeks at a time begging for money in the streets of Jos. Now he is starting his own business as a trader. Read about other beneficiaries of wheelchairs here.
Surviving polio in a country like Nigeria means a life of burden. With over 100,000 survivors in Nigeria alone, the need is great. The good news is that minimal resources have a significant impact, meaning that Wheels of Hope donors – no matter the amount – can transform lives.
To raise funds in support of increased mobility for polio survivors in countries where there is still need. That’s the mission of Wheels of Hope, and “increased mobility” is made possible with specially-made hand-crank wheelchairs.
The chairs look more like recumbent bicycles than traditional wheelchairs. They were designed with the special needs of polio survivors in mind — their upper body strength can provide the momentum while a weak lower half is supported by a comfortable seat. And they are built to navigate the rugged terrain — few places in the region have paved roads, and most of those who receive wheelchairs must travel long distances to school or work.
The chairs are built with parts sourced in northern Nigeria. This eliminates the red tape and expense of shipping parts internationally. It also allows recipients to maintain their chairs, fixing anything that breaks with local materials.
The lives of families in northern Nigeria are very different from those we live in the United States. They exist in crowded conditions with dirt floors and streets. People without sufficient income have no government support. Many beg in the streets and go hungry. And yet, our lives are also very much the same — all of us long for and deserve dignity and opportunity, and we all want a better life for our children.
A wheelchair can provide all of that for a polio survivor: the dignity of no longer dragging themselves through the dirt. The opportunity to attend school or get a job. The ability to care for their children, providing them with enough to eat, suitable clothing, and fees to attend school.
And a little goes a long way: just $150 buys a complete wheelchair, transforming the life of someone across the globe. Click here to donate now.