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Chariots Of Hope - The Gift Of Mobility - 2003-12-24

The World Health Organization estimates that about 18-million people worldwide are bedridden – whether due to disease, accident or war. Each year, one US-based organization helps several hundred of them gain mobility by donating wheelchairs.

It’s called Chariots of Hope – an organization of about 60 volunteers. Their goal: “Triumph over despair…providing mobility to confined individuals who are otherwise without hope of a reasonable quality of life.”

Kenneth Messier is executive director of Chariots of Hope.

"Chariots of Hope is a non-profit corporation based in Hartford, Connecticut. And we collect used wheelchairs and refurbish them and donate about 80 to 85 percent of those to third world countries. And then the others we keep here in Connecticut."

Mr. Messier says he and his fellow health care workers noticed that when nursing homes were renovated, wheelchairs were simply thrown out. It was cheaper for nursing homes and hospitals to buy new ones rather than refurbish the old. So they began collecting them, adding others through donations, and even raising enough money to buy a few new wheelchairs.

"This is our sixth year and it keeps going up every year. This year we’ll collect about 400 to 450 wheelchairs by the end of the year. And donate about 350 this year."

The reason Chariots of Hope cannot donate as many wheelchairs as it collects is because of repairs and expenses.

"It’ll take two or three wheelchairs to make one wheelchair because we’re taking the parts off one to repair another. From a cash basis it’s not a significant amount other than parts we might have to get. The largest cost has been shipping. Then we try to work with sponsoring organizations to assist us in the shipment portion of it. Our organization, we are an all-volunteer organization. We are not paying staff to make those repairs. It’s all being don on a volunteer basis."

This year, Chariots of Hope has sent wheelchairs to Sierra Leone, Ghana, the Dominican Republic, Brazil, Hungary and Mexico. Mr. Messier says the program has a big impact.

"Well, it has significant impact to the one person who gets that chair. It’s somebody who frequently has been without mobility for years at home and now they’re able to get out and into the community. So it has significant impact to those people who are able to get out now that hadn’t been able to get out."

In 1998, the first person to receive a wheelchair from the group was a nine-year-old South African girl named Anna. She had been confined to a hospital bed.

The name of the organization occurred by chance. Kenneth Messier says when he was driving in his car the theme from the movie Chariots of Fire was playing on the radio. He simply changed the word fire to hope.