Vol. 15, No. 40, March 31, 2003

International Committee in Action

Phil Salvatori
Phil Salvatori

One successful project completed recently was the assignment and delivery of 240 wheelchairs to the strife-racked African country of Sierra Leone. Wheelchair Project Chairperson Phil Salvatori introduced Greg Gourley, a Redmond Rotarian, who just returned from several weeks in Sierra Leone.

Phil described how the project got rolling at the club level. “It wasn’t a matter a finding homes for the wheelchairs, as I first thought, but an issue of how to raise the money. Turns out I had that backwards! We raised $18,000 from four Bellevue Rotary Clubs, with a match from Ken Behring, and we purchased 240 wheelchairs — a container full.”

Next, the BBRC had a team (Hyodo and Lingenbrink) going to Perm, Russia, and a need for wheelchairs was identified. “However, we just couldn’t make everything click … there was no way to get the wheelchairs through the Russian bureaucracy,” Phil reflected.

At an Issaquah Rotary meeting, Phil shared the speaking platform with Greg Gourley. “How’d you like 240 wheelchairs, Greg?” asked Phil. “Sure,” says Greg. Phil called the Wheelchair Foundation, but Sierra Leone wasn’t on the list. But, through his contacts, Greg was able to get the chairs to where they were needed – Sierra Leone.

Greg Gourley
Greg Gourley

Gourley left for Africa on January 13 and returned March 1. “I love working with the people. I had a private visit with the country’s President and he helped me deliver the wheelchairs. The medical needs in Sierra Leone are enormous. The shipment of wheelchairs arrived on February 4, with the Minister of Cultural affairs coordinating the program. The military was called upon to distribute the chairs. Sierra Leone is nearly opposite from the States. The power goes out in Freetown 9 to10 hours a day. The people work from 10 to 2. It’s not too fast a pace.”

The first 70 wheelchairs were part of the first distribution. I found my “crawler” in a little man, who was pulling himself along, dragging his body from place to place. We put him in a Land Rover and I got acquainted with him. I asked if I could see his legs … they had to have been heavily calloused from the years he’d been dragging them. This little man needed a wheelchair and he got one. It was a highlight of my trip.”

Greg thanked the BBRC and Rotarians on the Eastside for their gift. He will return to Sierra Leone to a health clinic and to help feed hungry people soon. “Rotary has a lot of friends in Sierra Leone.”

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