BAGHDAD — Providing wheelchairs for Iraq's disabled children is a huge undertaking.
Recently, Wheelchairs for Iraqi Kids, Iraqi national police officers from the 8th NP Brigade, 2nd NP Division and U.S. Soldiers from the 225th Engineer Brigade and 2nd Battalion, 505 Parachute Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82ndAirborne Division worked together to provide 30 wheelchairs for disabled children, June 20, at Joint Security Station Beladiyat in the 9 Nissan district of eastern Baghdad,.
First Lt. Trimeka Rivers, of Shreveport, La., has spent countless hours picking up wheelchairs shipped in from the U.S. and transporting them to units ready to distribute them.
Speaking with her, one would think it was an easy task.
"It wasn't hard," she smiled. "A lot of Soldiers we don't see [at the distribution site] have put a lot of time into it ... all volunteered to put the chairs together and make the adjustments."
As a former combat medic and now the brigade medical plans officer, Rivers said the chance for the children to participate in society is in itself an improvement to their mental capacity which will only improve as their physical condition is stabilized.
"The wheelchair will give them a sense of normalcy. They will be able to eat sitting up, instead of lying down," she explained. "They will be able to move around, play with other kids, instead of being toted around."
Wheelchairs for Iraqi Kids was started by Brad Blauser to help an estimated 500,000 disabled children needing the gift of freedom of movement given to them by the use of a wheelchair; for most, the wheelchair they received was the first they had ever owned.
Rivers said she cannot help but do what she can for the cause after meeting Blauser.
"Brad is awesome! He is working with all the military branches and he's really working to get Iraq to make the chairs," she said. "Because of his passion for it, I do my best to help in any way I can."
Plans have been made for an existing Iraqi factory to make the wheelchairs that would provide 50,000 to 75,000 chairs over five years; a significant injection of capital into an economy plagued by unemployment, but red tape and lack of funding has the hope of the project seriously in doubt.
"We found a factory in Mahmudiyah, the National Medal Bicycle Company. At one time they employed up to 1500 people and were the largest factory in the Middle East. Currently they only employ 75 people," Blauser said. "They built a prototype off of pictures and drawings and did a great job. They're ready to go, we just need funds to help them finalize production details and purchase wheelchairs from them."
Working jointly on a mission can be difficult with language barriers between the Iraqi national police and the U.S. Soldiers, but the desire to give relief to the disabled children provided the common thread needed to make the mission a success.
"I love children. Children make me smile, period," Rivers explained with a smile. "The NP I was working with was really excited about it. He was making sure the chairs were adjusted probably. It was a good feeling working with somebody who is excited and passionate about children as me."
Rivers has worked on humanitarian missions in Haiti, with the Red Cross after Hurricane Gustav and as a medic with the National Guard during Hurricane Katrina. For her, the day's distribution was just another opportunity to continue to give her time for worthy causes.
"The wheelchair distribution has been the highlight of the deployment for me," said Rivers.
For more information about how you can help, please go to Brad Blauser's website at: www.WheelchairsForIraqiKids.com.
This work, Joint cooperation provides wheelchairs for children in Beladiyat, by 1LT Rebekah Malone, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.