HOUSTON - At first glance, Amilcar Hernandez seems to be a man confined to a wheelchair. In fact, he is a man who has been freed because of his wheelchair.
Amilcar is one of the 1 million recipients to receive the gift of mobility from the non-profit, Free Wheelchair Mission.
He explained how his life has changed since he received his wheelchair. Amilcar was born with a spinal cyst called meningocele that caused a defect in the development of his legs as a child.
He resorted to crawling or relied on the help of others to help him carry out normal day-to-day tasks.
"Before, life was sad. I had to depend on other people to help me do everything," he said. "But now, I make and sell pinatas and ceviche, and I am able to make a living for me and my family."
Gustavo Chacon, Central America Regional Coordinator, also lives in El Salvador and explained that the country is mountainous with frequent mudslides, but that these wheelchairs are built with the rough terrain in mind.
Amilcar said he can endure steep hills, navigate public transportation and go nearly anywhere because of the build of his chair.
Don Schoendorfer, president and founder of the NGO, said "I didn't start out with the intentions of making an organization. I just wanted to prove a point."
And that point was that it is possible to make affordable and accessible wheelchairs to those in need.
Don's inspiration to make his first wheelchair came from the time he saw a girl crawling by her hands in the streets in Morocco. That image stayed with him and motivated him to make low-cost wheelchairs.
"After I gave my very first wheelchair to a girl in India back in 2001, the compassion and her immediate transformation was so compelling." Don said. "People at my church heard about what I had done and I started receiving a lot of donations and support."
Today, Free Wheelchair Mission distributes 80,000 low-cost wheelchairs annually to those in need and have just hit a goal of 1 million wheelchairs distributed to those in developing countries.
But the change isn't just abroad, but right here in Houston.
The city of Houston is beginning to pick up speed in donations with Jenni Granero, the Senior Development Officer, as proof.
Jenni explains that Houston is bursting with energy and many opportunities to shed light on the issue such as mobility briefings like the one scheduled for Sunday at Chapel Wood United Methodist.
Sixteen years of team work, expansion and divine timing have resulted in what is now a worldwide non-profit that has changed the lives of a million disabled individuals.
The smile on Amilcar Hernandez's face is enough proof for anyone to believe that he has been gifted freedom and a sense of confidence that he did not have before his wheelchair.
"Now my ultimate dream is to study medicine, and to one day become a doctor."
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