Hope in Motion

by Sarah Hofer

A once-lonely girl with clubbed feet now joins her friends as they play and laugh away lazy afternoons. In a few years, she’ll attend school and obtain an education that may change her life profoundly, pulling her out of a life of poverty and into a world of new opportunities. Along with 120 others last summer, this young girl received a wheelchair manufactured by Free Wheelchair Mission (FWM) and distributed by Nick Felipe, DPT ’11; Jaclyn Trotter, DPT ’11; and Brittani Lenae Cain, DPT ’11, third-year students in APU’s Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program who traveled to Zambia in June 2011. The trip started as the fulfillment of their residency requirement, but became so much more.

The students connected with FWM through their professor, Susan Shore, PT, Ph.D., who began volunteering as a consultant and researcher in 2008, conducting studies to determine the effectiveness of FWM’s first-generation wheelchair design. As her involvement with the nonprofit grew, it opened opportunities for her students to fulfill their residency requirement. Three years later, Don Schoendorfer, FWM president and founder, asked Felipe, Trotter, and Cain to create a training program for World Vision employees in Zambia, enabling them to correctly modify the new model to fit a variety of recipients. Excited to use the knowledge they had gained and eager to make an impact in a population so desperately in need, they agreed.

The collaboration proved useful for all involved. “The application of their physical therapy skills was a learning experience for the students. World Vision Zambia benefited from training sessions the students gave. Free Wheelchair Mission benefited from the partnership forged with World Vision in helping the disabled poor,” said Shore.

Because the training program is specific to the chair, the impact will not be confined to the Zambians or World Vision. Instead, the students created a resource for FWM that paves the way for potential recipients who still wait for a miracle. “FWM is immensely grateful for Nick, Brittani, and Jaclyn, and their help in developing our GEN_2 distribution and user training program. Their contribution will be an invaluable resource used around the world with World Vision and all our other distribution partners,” said Whitney Blaesser, FWM international operations manager.

While the DPT students expected to see the benefits to FWM and their disabled patients, they realized they had been blessed as well. “I went on this trip because I wanted to use the skills I’d learned to help others in need,” said Felipe. “It ended up being so much more. From training World Vision employees to actually distributing wheelchairs in Zambian villages, each experience helped me see beyond life in the U.S. to the overwhelming need in other parts of the world.”

Trotter saw the need as tangible on more than one level. As she glanced out at the crowd during their last distribution, she was drawn to the sight of a woman laughing and turning her new chair in circles. To her, the joy and hope radiating from the woman’s face represented the most important part of their work. “I loved that we got to help others in the name of Jesus and practically meet their needs while pointing them toward Christ,” said Trotter. “It reminded me that our God cares deeply about His Creation.”

Originally published in the Winter '11 issue of APU Life. Download the PDF or view all issues.