Defense Department Supports Wheelchair Donations in Iraq
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 19, 2004 Several hundred Iraqis have new-found mobility, thanks to a public-private partnership that provides wheelchairs to victims of war, disability and disease.
About 280 wheelchairs, donated by churches and private contributors through the Wheelchair Foundation, were delivered to Iraq in December and are being distributed throughout the country. The Defense Security Cooperation Agency, in coordination with the State Department, arranged and paid to transport the wheelchairs. A nongovernmental organization, Life for Relief and Development, is overseeing the distribution.
An Iraqi child revels in his new wheelchair, donated through a public-private partnership. Courtesy photo
(Click photo for screen-resolution image)
"This is a great example of private-public partnerships," said Judith McCallum, who coordinates transportation for humanitarian assistance goods for the Defense Security Cooperation Agency. It's a way for DoD to work with nongovernmental organizations to help people in need, she said.
So far, Life for Relief and Development has distributed the wheelchairs at events in Baghdad, Tikrit, Karbala and the province of Wasit.
McCallum said the joint effort fills a genuine need in Iraq, where thousands of residents have lost legs, many to land mines. Another shipment of 500 to 600 wheelchairs is scheduled for June.
The project is part of an ongoing DSCA effort by to support U.S. humanitarian assistance efforts worldwide, McCallum explained. The goal is to strengthen America's alliances and partnerships worldwide and to build trust and understanding of what America is all about.
"It's a way to help win the hearts and minds of people all over the world and to show them what the United States stands for," she said.
Last fall, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency took part in "Operation Afghanistan," a similar initiative that delivered more than 5,000 wheelchairs to disabled Afghans. The agency arranged and paid to transport the wheelchairs into Kabul, and the U.S. military provided logistics support on the ground.
"We are here to show the love and friendship of the people of the United States of America," said Wheelchair Foundation founder Kenneth Behring to an audience of more than 300 who gathered for the Afghanistan distribution. "We are here to show you that we care. Our hope is to give you hope to help provide freedom and dignity so you can more fully enjoy life."
The goal of the Wheelchair Foundation is to provide a wheelchair to everyone who needs but can't afford one, worldwide. Since 2000, the foundation has donated more than 160,000 wheelchairs in more than 100 countries.