Three Ceres residents recently joined a team of 24 Americans who traveled to Mongolia to distribute wheelchairs for 200 persons in need – some of whom were only previously able to get around by being carried by family members. It was a memorable, once-in-a-lifetime trip for many of the participants.
The team was organized by Hope Haven West, a non-profit group dedicated to providing mobility to the disabled poor. Volunteers collect used and discarded wheelchairs which are refurbished in the United States and then shipped to disabled children and adults.
Joining the team from Central and Southern California, Arizona and North Carolina were Bryan and Becki Nicholes of Ceres and Lonnie Davis. The group arrived in Mongolia on July 7 after over 20 hours of travel.
The team remained in Mongolia until July 20 and traveled around by bus to distribution points in the capital city of Ulannbaatar, Muran and Selenge, which is less than five miles from the Russian border. The sites were selected based on greatest need as identified by Rotary Club members in Mongolia and the Red Cross there. Some of the sites required a six-hour journey where the Americans were greeted by local dignitaries, Rotary Club members and families awaiting assistance.
“It was evident from the smiles, tears and hugs that these families and individuals were blessed by the new found mobility for their loved one."Becki Nicholes
“It was evident from the smiles, tears and hugs that these families and individuals were blessed by the new found mobility for their loved one,” said Becki Nicholes.
Despite being unable to communicate except through interpreters, Becki said she was overwhelmed by the thankfulness of the recipients and their families and the tears of joy, smiles, and laughter at times.
“They were all so appreciative of what our team was bringing each of them, mobility freedom,” said Becki. “They continually shook our hands, hugged us and repeatedly said thank you.”
Becki was assigned to hospitality to the families and wheelchair recipients as well as the team. She entertained the children and families by offering toys, blowing bubbles, playing games and painting the fingernails of the children.
“Her energetic personality also kept our team entertained during the exhausting days,” said husband Bryan, the former Ceres fire chief.
“This trip caused me to appreciate family and to be thankful for my health,” Bryan said. “It has shown me that hope can come in many forms – many times from people we only just met. The love shown by the families as they drove and carried their loved ones into the distribution centers filled me with a sense of service above oneself.”
Bryan assisted Cathy Mulholland, one of four seating specialists who measured the users and crafts the chair for its best use based on the particular disability. He also worked with Bob Brunker whose wife is native to Mongolia and helped organize the trip. Together they took measurements and assembled and handcrafted chairs for recipients. One particular chair given away is called the “Hope Haven Chair” that can be completely configured to best suit the individual being fitted.
“Our team of 24 worked like a well-oiled machine,” said Nicholes. “The top priority was always making sure that the chair was a perfect fit for the person as best we could.”
Everyone on the team also helped load and unload wheelchairs from the trucks.
While the team stayed in a few hotels, they were mostly hosted in Yurts, or portable round tents and Ger camps where they were immersed in local culture. They learned that there are 13 times more horses than humans in Mongolia, a nation sandwiched between China to the south and Russia to the north, and sheep out number humans 35 to one.
The trip was two years in the planning that started when Oakdale Rotary Club member Eska Brunker asked Lonny Davis of the Ceres Rotary Club and founder of Hope Haven West, to assist the disabled in her native Mongolia. Davis collects wheelchairs and stores them at his Ceres warehouse.
Hope Haven West is solely supported through donations of funds, time and wheelchairs and always in need of volunteers, wheelchairs and financial donations.
For more information about Hope Haven West, participating in future distributions in Mexico and Peru, or supporting financially, visit the Hope Haven website at www.hopehavenwest.com.