Free Wheelchairs for Iraqi Children

One man, Brad Blauser, has vowed to try to make life a little easier for Iraqi families by organizing the distribution of free wheelchairs. Brad first came to Iraq in 2004 as a civilian contractor. Struck by the abject chaos surrounding him and seeing helpless children scooting along the ground, he pledged to find a way to help.

His first step was to consult an Army medic who said, "We've got so many children out in the city that the ones who can get around are following their friends by dragging themselves around on the ground, which is heartbreaking to see."

Enlisting the help of generous supporters and an Iraqi humanitarian group Wheelchairs for Iraqi Kids was born in August of 2005. The chairs are made by prisoners at the South Dakota State Penitentiary and ultimately delivered in Iraq by the U.S. military.

"Getting these prisoners involved, it just means the world to them. They come up with different design ideas and ways to make things better for the kids. They want to know where the chairs are going and what kids we're helping."

Blauser said it's unbelievable to be there when the chairs are delivered. "The most affecting thing about this whole wheelchairs for children is when the parents realize the gift that is being given to their children and they reach out to hug you." he said. "The tears are running from their eyes and they say, 'We never thought that you could do this.'"

It's a sentiment that is echoed by Samira Al-Ali, the head of the Iraqi group that finds the children in need. "I wish the world would see with their own eyes the children of Iraq and help the children of Iraq, because the children of Iraq have been deprived of everything," she said. "Even a normal child has been deprived of their childhood; a disabled child and their family is dealing with so much more."

The children also show gratitude, even those who can scarcely move. Blauser remembers one boy's father who dressed him in a three-piece suit, with the trousers hanging off his motionless legs. "He couldn't move his legs or his arms. But when we sat him in his chair, he gave us the thumbs up."

Iraqi parents will go to any lengths to improve the quality of their children's lives. Blauser points to one of his favorite photographs, of a father carrying his son in his arms, an endless desert road behind him. He had carried his son more than 6 miles to get a wheelchair.


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