Empowering Lives Through Wheelchairs: A Journey of Inclusion in Gaza
by Sameer Abu Jayyab
Director of the Society of the Physically Handicapped People
Wheelchairs play an indispensable role in transforming the lives of people with disabilities in Gaza, granting them the gift of mobility and independence. These mobility aids serve as an extension of their lower limbs, allowing people with disabilities to engage with their community for social inclusion. Without a wheelchair, they experience not only the physical challenges of their disability but also the emotional burden of isolation. And they miss out on participating in outdoor activities with their families and communities, deepening their feelings of exclusion and disconnection.
Challenges We Face in Gaza
Procuring wheelchairs remains an enduring challenge for us in Gaza due to the ongoing economic and political situation. Many of our patients, coping with long-term disabilities or mental trauma resulting from wars, are in dire need of mobility aids. Our patients come from diverse backgrounds, including those with brain strokes and children born with abnormalities or spinal issues, emphasizing the breadth of our mission.
We had old wheelchairs which were prone to breaking, and the absence of maintenance facilities compounded the issue. Most homes lack ramps or spaces designed for people with disabilities, and the sandy, debris-filled streets further impact wheelchair durability and reliability.
When we have managed to get new wheelchairs, we encounter another less noticeable but equally pressing challenge: shortages of spare parts. The lack of necessary components for maintenance and repair compromises the lifespan of these wheelchairs, and affects the quality of life for those who depend on them. Even local bicycle shops lack the necessary spare parts and expertise to refurbish the old wheelchairs.
Financial constraints add to the difficulty, forcing patients to make heartbreaking choices between food and wheelchair repairs. Our need for wheelchairs continues to rise, with patients approaching us in search of spare parts every four months.
How the Society Helps
Recognizing the uniqueness of each patient, the Society conducts thorough assessments to tailor our service to their specific needs. We consider factors such as size, back height, and age when evaluating the need for a wheelchair. A one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work. It’s vital to ensure optimal balance and comfort for each patient. And we continue our relationship with our patients to monitor success and fix issues as they arise.
One of our notable achievements is integrating students with disabilities into schools. This connection not only enhances their learning opportunities but also opens doors for future job prospects. It provides families with an opportunity to break the cycle of confinement, allowing their children to thrive and grow in an inclusive environment.
Anera’s Recent Shipment of 275 Wheelchairs
Anera’s shipment of 275 brand new wheelchairs in July 2023 has been a godsend to the people who rely on our services. Donated by the Wheelchair Foundation, along with the wheelchairs came a shipment of the spare parts needed to keep them maintained over the long term. This means that 275 people are now mobile and have the peace of mind to know that they can get their chairs fixed, as needed.
In Gaza, wheelchairs are more than just mobility aids. They are bridges to inclusion and independence. Despite the challenges we face, our commitment to improving the lives of patients with disabilities remains unwavering. Together with partner like Anera and the Wheelchair Foundation, and the support of compassionate individuals, we strive to ensure that every patient in Gaza receives the mobility assistance they need to lead fulfilling lives and contribute to their communities.
Thank you for joining us on this journey of empowerment and inclusion!
Even after this war is over, the decimation of life and infrastructure in Gaza will take many years to overcome.