“In South Africa, many children cannot afford an item as expensive as a wheelchair, leaving thousands of disabled children without mobility and without hope,” explained Tamar Lazarus, honorary president of Women’s International Zionist Organization (WIZO) South Africa. “Most of these children will not attend school and they do not have access to formal education, thus disabling them even further.”
But for some South African children, that is about to change. Together with Israeli NGO Wheelchairs of Hope and the Israeli Embassy, WIZO South Africa has taken on an outreach program to bring wheelchairs to needy and underprivileged children across South Africa.
Lazarus told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday that WIZO South Africa was approached by the Israeli Embassy in 2017. The organization was asked to partner with Wheelchairs of Hope to find donors and worthy recipients for wheelchairs in the country.
“It was a task which we gladly undertook as part of its local outreach program, as it fits perfectly with its own objectives of working to uplift underprivileged women and children in Israel, with an emphasis on early childhood education and promoting hasbara [public diplomacy],” she said. “The Wheelchairs of Hope project is another example of Israel’s contribution to the world in terms of technological innovation made available at minimal or no cost.”
Thanks to the generosity of ex-South Africans Bernhard and Pearl Lazarus and donors from Cape Town, the first consignment of 50 child-size wheelchairs arrived from Israel, and several were distributed to the Maitland Cottage Children’s Orthopedic Hospital in Cape Town on Wednesday.
The wheelchairs are being distributed around South Africa to hospitals, schools and individual children. “On each wheelchair is a sticker: ‘To the children of South Africa with love from Israel,’” Lazarus said.
According to the World Health Organization, there are more than 25 million people around the world who are immobile and cannot afford a wheelchair.
In South Africa, “children with disabilities are among the most neglected groups in the country. The majority of these children face enormous economic and social barriers that have an adverse impact on their physical, social and intellectual development and well-being,” Lazarus added.
A wheelchair is something completely out of reach for most, she said. “And so this month, we have joined forces with Wheelchairs of Hope to bring 50 child-size wheelchairs that will give 50 South African children the dignity of mobility.”
It is estimated that as many as 600,000 disabled children across South Africa are not receiving an education.
“The pervasive stigma is one significant factor... lack of resources and accessibility are also daunting obstacles – forcing their dependence on family and friends to get around. In fact, for some children, the only way to get around is to crawl, making it almost impossible to attend school,” Lazarus said.
“We often take the ability to move in our home and community for granted, and with that, the ability to learn, interact with others and participate in family life. We are so pleased that we are able to assist, for now, 50 children with mobility impairments, and give them these wheelchairs to enable them to lead active and fulfilling lives.”
Aimed at children aged five to nine years-old who can push themselves, the colorful, ergonomically designed wheelchairs are lightweight and robust enough to handle urban and country terrains.
The Wheelchairs of Hope wheelchairs were developed by Israeli doctors and engineers from ALYN Hospital in Jerusalem, Israel’s leading pediatric and adolescent rehabilitation center, with the simple wish to “empower education through mobility.”
Lazarus added: “We know that the receipt of these wheelchairs... will have a truly lifelong impact on these kids, and their entire family unit will be transformed by the gift of the basic human right of mobility.”
In addition to Maitland Hospital, recipients of the 50 wheelchairs include Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital in Johannesburg; The Give a Child a Family organization in Margate; individual children; and other organizations identified by WIZO.
The Nelson Mandela Hospital will receive its wheelchair donation on February 19. On February 21, wheelchairs will be distributed to individual children at the Umduduzi Hospice Care for Children in Durban.