In 2021, saigonchildren was fortunate enough to relate to Wheelchairs for Kids, an established charitable organisation specialising in manufacturing and distributing free wheelchairs for children with mobility difficulties from disadvantaged backgrounds worldwide, and received a generous donation of 166 all-terrain wheelchairs to grant to Vietnamese children across the nation. The project between saigonchildren and Wheelchair for Kids aimed at allocating these 166 wheelchairs to children and adolescents with mobility impairments under the age of 18, and supporting physiotherapists in receiving appropriate training on how to assemble and adjust the wheelchairs according to the needs and conditions of each child
Our original plan was to recruit only children and adolescents from the Ho Chi Minh city area. This was done so that our recipient partner could carry out home visits to each household to identify the family circumstances and verify that they were in fact from disadvantaged backgrounds. However, through their extensive networks and through great efforts made to find children who fit our criteria, they could find only 19 children living in Ho Chi Minh city to fill the spots, only an eighth of the number of available wheelchairs. We then reached out to many different charitable and non-profit organisations operating across Ho Chi Minh city but received similar results: we were able to find less than 10 more children fit to receive the wheelchairs. It was then that we decided to expand our search nationwide. This increased our numbers significantly, as most of the children with disability came from areas more heavily affected by Operation Ranch Hand during the Vietnam War. To ensure that we would still be able to understand a child’s background and evaluate whether they meet the criteria to receive wheelchairs, we prioritised shelters for homeless children or for children with disabilities and reputable local organisations with manpower to carry out home visits. With the expansion, we were able to find the appropriate recipients corresponding to the number of wheelchairs donated by Wheelchairs for Kids.
While shipping was initially arranged to occur around August, our plans were delayed owing to the worsened COVID-19 situation in Saigon at the time which led to a strict total lockdown barring almost all cross-province transportation and logistics. While there were initial complications in terms of paperwork as we had never dealt with importing charitable goods before, we were able to arrange the logistics for the wheelchairs relatively quickly as lockdown gradually eased. We were fortunate enough to receive guidance and support from Crown International – our regular donor and partner freight forwarding services – in importing the wheelchairs, which significantly sped up the process. Our freight fees were covered by Ms Anh Truong, Perth-based benefactor, and colleagues, to whom we are extremely grateful. By the end of November, shipment departure was finalised and towards the end of December, the wheelchairs arrived at Ho Chi Minh city.
From this location, the wheelchairs were then distributed across 9 different provinces: Ho Chi Minh city, Hanoi, Bac Ninh, Khanh Hoa, Ha Tinh, Yen Bai, Dong Nai, Ba Ria – Vung Tau and Lam Dong. The majority of wheelchairs were delivered to shelters and large organisations, and 5 were sent directly to 5 unaffiliated families. While some of the recipient organisations were able to pay for delivery fee from Saigon to their local warehouse, others could not, and saigonchildren also spent our own funding to cover the fees for these organisations as well as for the unaffiliated families.
Before the wheelchairs could be gifted to each child, it was necessary that the physiotherapists in charge of their cases or their support workers understand how to correctly assemble the wheelchair and adjust them. Therefore, we hosted an online training for individuals who would be in charge of these tasks. Our trainers for the seminar were Mr Nang Phan, an engineer and owner of one of the most established assistive device production businesses in the country, and Ms Anh Chi Nguyen, a physiotherapist with extensive experience in working with individuals with mobility impairments and work in close collaboration with the Ministry of Health. Both trainers received training in delivering wheelchair services by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and were committed to adhering to the 8 Steps Plan for Wheelchair Provisioning by the WHO. Originally, if all the recipient children were based in Saigon, it was Mr Nang and Ms Anh Chi who were going to directly adjust the wheelchairs for each individual child. However, as the wheelchairs were distributed nationwide instead, their tasks shifted to hosting training online and helping professionals understand how they could manipulate the wheelchairs to best serve the children’s needs.
With the knowledge and information received from training, the recipient organisations and families proceeded with distributing the wheelchairs. Through follow-up conversations, we learned that all organisations successfully gifted the wheelchairs to the children and all of the recipient children received support in having the wheelchairs fitted to their needs. At shelters where recipient children stayed full-time, the wheelchairs were fitted and allocated directly by in-house physiotherapists. For organisations that did not provide boarding, volunteer support workers were sent to each household to deliver and adjust the wheelchair on the spot for the children. This had the added advantage of allowing the children to remain in the comfort of their own home, as travelling may be extremely difficult and exhausting for the children. saigonchildren also supports the fitting of wheelchairs by offering to find physiotherapists to aid the fitting process in cases where support workers were unsure, and also to forward the videos of children seated in the wheelchairs to Ms Anh Chi to receive feedback and guidance in difficult cases.
We are going to continue with the evaluation phase of the project and will keep you up to date with the result very soon.
THANK YOU VERY MUCH TO WHEELCHAIRS FOR KIDS, DONORS AND PARTNERS FOR ALL OF YOUR PRECIOUS SUPPORTS!