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Going to the wall for wheelchairs
What do Charles Dickens, Sherlock Holmes, Mahatma Gandhi, Michael J. Fox, and Chilliwack's own darling Jean Scott have in common?
Walk into Dickens British Museum and a Wall of Wheelchairs is there to greet you. A wall featuring the aforementioned names and those of several more who gave mobility to those most in need – under the guise of Fred Hails.
For two years the Dickens owner has been purchasing wheelchairs for the Canadian Wheelchair Foundation, a non-profit organization that gives wheelchairs to those living with disabilities in third-world countries.
Children who couldn't go to school because they had no mobility. Adults living out their lives in a corner on their family's floor because they had no mobility. Seniors forgotten, and essentially left to die, because they had no mobility.
"Wheelchairs give them mobility, independence, freedom," said Hails.
"You hear the stories, the young lad, who had to been taken everywhere in a wheelbarrow, who had never been to school, but now, with a wheelchair, he can go to school.
"I could give money somewhere else, but this is so heartwarming, and there is no end to the need."
It's estimated more than 100 million people worldwide are in need of a wheelchair, but can't afford one. In developing countries, roughly three per cent of the population is disabled from such hardships as war, disease, accidents, and limited healthcare. In countries with ongoing conflict and civil war that number is as high as 20 per cent.
And in most cases, immobility means no education, no employment, no societal integration.
Hails, a longtime Rotarian, got the idea to start regularly donating to the foundation through Chilliwack Rotary, which already actively fundraises for the cause.
Every year he aims to purchase a minimum of 100 wheelchairs. This year he's purchased 47, with plans for 30 more over the next couple months. In total he's purchased 170.
One wheelchair costs $150.
Rather than put his name on the donor form, he opts for the names of significant people in his life –British characters, real and fictional, musicians, inventors, politicians, the Royal family, heck, even Santa Claus and Snow White have made the list.
"I've got to buy them anyway, so why not have a little fun with it," said Hails, who has names popping in his head like kernels in a popcorn machine.
"I'm always waking up in the middle of the night with another idea," he laughed.
For every donation made, a personalized certificate of appreciation with a photograph of a wheelchair recipient is provided. Those certificates are what cover Dickens Wall of Wheelchairs.
"One wheelchair at a time, we're changing the world," said Hails.
Dickens British Museum is holding a monthly draw contest; each name selected be used for the next wheelchair donation.