In 2018, Nuka Solomon met a 14-year-old boy in Port-au-Prince, Haiti who lost his leg in the devastating earthquake of 2010. He had gone 8 years without a wheelchair.  This life-changing experience fueled Solomon’s desire to lead a mission that is changing the world and the lives of millions across the globe. Today, as CEO of Free Wheelchair Mission, Solomon stands at the helm of a team that offers renewed dignity, independence, and hope through the gift of mobility, at no cost to wheelchair recipients or their families.

During this overwhelming time of global crisis, the nonprofit’s mission is more urgent than ever. Below, Solomon took the time to explain why.

Solomon’s Haitian heritage drew her to work with an entity that was making an impact in Haiti

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Can you tell us a little bit about the history and mission of Free Wheelchair Mission and its global impact?

The story of our history is quite unique in the nonprofit world. It’s more like the story of a Silicon Valley start-up like Apple or Google. We literally started in the garage of our founder, Don Schoendorfer.

On a trip Don took with his wife to Morocco many years prior to our founding, Don witnessed a woman crawling on a dirt road, pulling herself forward by her fingertips. That image of the woman stuck with him for many years.

He later discovered that more than 75 million people around the world need a wheelchair, but do not have the means to get one. He was determined to do something to change that.

The mobility provided by each wheelchair is truly life-changing and the impact it has on families and the communities we serve has been global.

How is COVID-19 impacting people with disabilities differently, especially in developing countries?

While COVID-19 has been devastating here in the United States and in other developed countries, it is unimaginable for someone with disabilities living in developing countries. Children, adults, and the elderly who live with disabilities are truly the “most vulnerable of the vulnerable” when it comes to natural disasters and pandemics like we are now witnessing.

For those who lack mobility, it may be impossible to “social distance” as they usually need others for care and to get around. It makes it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to get to a doctor or medical center as these can be very far away. People with disabilities often have other underlying medical conditions as well. It is a very troubling situation all around right now.  

Why are wheelchairs so essential in these communities and how are the wheelchairs you create designed to meet the economic and physical challenges within these communities?

When we provide wheelchairs to those who desperately need them, not only does it lift them off the ground (literally, in many cases), but it also provides them with dignity, safety, health, and opportunities to go to school, to work, or to get medical care. It’s like a whole new world opens up for them.

In many developing countries (or even in developed countries, for that matter), people with disabilities can be stigmatized, unfortunately. One of the amazing and unexpected benefits of getting someone into a wheelchair is the dignity and renewed respect that it can generate in their village or city. It has the power to help change the way the whole community views people with disabilities.

Our original wheelchairs provide an ingenious solution using lawn chairs, bicycle wheels, and other materials. We are now on our third-generation, “GEN_3” wheelchair design and, with our distribution partners, have delivered more than 1 million wheelchairs in 93 countries around the world.

We also deliver medical supplies and other mobility aids, such as walkers and canes, and these supplied have been immensely valuable to the communities we serve that are being hit by COVID-19.

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What can the general public do to help support the organization’s mission?

In response to COVID-19, we are currently working hard to get medical supplies and mobility aids to those who need them around the world through our Medical and Mobility Emergency Fund. Donations to this fund are very much appreciated!

We also have two exciting events coming up:

With our “Virtual Run for Mobility”, anyone, wherever they are, can get active by running, walking, stair-stepping, or doing other physical activity to help raise money for our mission. For many of us who have been confined to our homes, getting exercise is so important to our physical and mental well-being. And Miracle of Mobility LIVE! will be an online, streamed event on July 23 that will showcase our work and will also include fun ways to get involved and hear from some very special guests.