News Release

Donation of 2,000 mobility devices set to change lives in South Africa

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints donated 900 wheelchairs and 1,200 mobility aids in partnership with the Western Cape Department of Health.

Ashley Dirks was on his way home from purchasing ice for a New Year’s Eve party when he was stabbed in the back three times. He lost the use of his legs and has been wheelchair bound ever since.

During a handover ceremony at the Western Cape Rehabilitation Centre in Lentegeur, South Africa on Monday, Ashley was one of the recipients of a specially-fitted wheelchair. At the event, Dirks demonstrated on an obstacle course how his advanced wheelchair could accommodate curbs, uneven walkways and gravel paths.

The event signaled a donation from the Church to provide 900 wheelchairs, 1200 mobility aids, eight rural wheelchair repair shops, tools and training to local physiotherapists in the area. The programme is run in partnership with the Western Cape Department of Health.

‘Now I can go everywhere I want to go’

According to Statistics South Africa’s most recent profile of people with disabilities, roughly 2 out of every 100 people in South Africa are living with some form of communication, self-care or walking difficulty.

Without wheelchairs, people with physical disabilities are often confined to their homes or beds, socially isolated, unable to use public transport, and excluded from educational opportunities, as most schools are not equipped to help immobile people without a wheelchair.

Babalo Pholose, who suffers from TB in in the spine said, “If there was no equipment like this, I would be sleeping in [my] bed. I couldn’t move around. So now … I can go to town; go to work; [I can go] everywhere I want to go.”

Dave Nish, a volunteer programme administrator for the church, added that the donation included 200 commodes. “Many of the people in the rural areas of South Africa do not have toilets inside their houses. They use long drops which are outside their house. In the middle of the night, it is both dangerous and unpleasant to have to get into a wheelchair, go outside over stones and ditches to get to the latrine. This will give them far greater dignity and improve the quality of their lives.”

‘It looks at the system as a whole’

Dr. Keith Cloete, Head of the Western Cape Health Department described the donation as “innovative.”

He explained: “A programme like this is a massive benefit to the way we want to do things, because it doesn’t only look at the assistive device: it also looks at the system that you require to maintain the assistive device.

“There are workshops around maintenance, training; a range of other things. This … bespoke donation is appropriate for our context because it takes into consideration the operating system that needs to be in place for assisted devices to be used effectively,” said Dr Cloete.

A three-day training was held earlier in the week for therapists and providers to learn to assess patients’ needs and fit them to wheelchairs that are right for them.

Magda du Preez, a physiotherapist for the Western Cape Department of Health physiotherapist attended the training with six of her patients. Du Preez reported one of her patients initially said, “I don’t want this wheelchair with the three wheels.” They went outside to try out the wheelchair and the patient came back with a big smile and joyfully said, “I want this. I want this.”

Cynthia Engelbrecht, an Assistant Director for Community Based Services with the Western Cape, said that through the programme “the quality of life [for our patients] improves because we are getting the right wheelchairs to the right person. Setting up places and services helps so much.”

At the event, Paul Kruger, a regional leader in the Cape Town area for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, explained that the donation was funded by contributions from Church members all over the world. “We are about empowering people … to lead happy and productive lives. We believe that loving and serving our neighbors is a true expression of Christianity to our neighbours.”

Like a stream of water, President Kruger said, “each of us is small, but together wherever we go it enriches the lives of others. We are leaving the world a little greener and we become a little holier ourselves.”

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