Wheelchairs for Kids: MAC Fundraiser Calls for Donors, EBRD to Match Funds Raised

GEORGIA TODAY asked MAC Director Jeremy Gaskill to talk about his new fundraiser- supplying wheelchairs to Georgia’s disadvantaged children.

“I started with MAC Georgia in 2014 and quickly realized, as I visited kids across the regions, that while wheelchairs were available to most, they often weren’t appropriate for the individuals using them. Some chairs were too big and thus prevented the child from reaching the wheels or enjoying independent mobility; most chairs didn’t lean back or adjust; nor did they have any head or side support,” he told us. “As a result, kids with postural problems leaned forward, hung to the side or even slipped out of their seat.  Left without alternatives, mothers or caregivers often tied their kids into the chair with a scarf or rope.  Other children couldn’t use the chair at all and so remained in bed.” 

He noted that a common misconception he often runs into is the idea that a wheelchair is only important as a means of moving a person from point A to point B.

“While this is of course part of its purpose, a chair is also a crucial tool for reducing physical deformities and preserving a person’s posture. Imagine a child that perpetually leans to one side of her chair. Gravity pulls at her body and over time this initially slight lean grows into a more extreme deformity.  Her spine twists and her muscles shorten, thus locking her into a contracted position.  Her ability to swallow and to breathe deteriorates and her overall ability to actively engage with the world becomes greatly reduced.  Worst of all, this is preventable.”

MAC Georgia is committed to ensuring that persons with more complex postural support needs get the chairs they need.  They have spent more than two years field-testing wheelchairs across various Georgian rural and urban areas, observing how each model stands up to the rigors of use, listening to user and parent feedback, and assessing each chair’s ability to support the wide range of physical needs. This work has helped MAC to identify wheelchair models that they believe are well suited for the Georgian context.

“We intentionally avoided looking at high-end, expensive chairs, instead focusing our attention on wheelchairs that are well designed but priced for lower-income countries,” Gaskill said. “It’s imperative to us that these chairs be something that the Georgian government can realistically afford. In the end, each of the chairs we identified runs somewhere between $300 and $500. It’s more than the approximately $200 that the government currently pays per wheelchair, but we believe, given the overall benefits, it’s well worth the additional cost.”

The right wheelchair, if fitted correctly, can transform a child’s life. In many cases it means the difference between health and chronic illness, inclusion and isolation, independence and dependence, even – in extreme cases – life and death.

“There’s a high number of kids with Cerebral Palsy in Georgia,” Gaskill reports. “The vast majority of these children can’t sit upright on their own. In cases like this, a standard chair isn’t enough. A properly fitted, postural supportive wheelchair is needed to brace their bodies in an upright position.”

Improved posture means greater comfort, wellbeing, and preserved functional independence. Fitting a child into a wheelchair with correct postural support preserves the child’s physical health and significantly improves their overall quality of life.

“We want to change the way that wheelchairs are distributed in Georgia. Rather than a ‘one model fits all’ approach, we want to show that chairs can and should be fitted to the needs of each user,” Gaskill summarized. "Our Occupational Therapists will assess, prescribe and fit each child into the chair that best suits their specific needs. Importantly, 100% of each donation will go to the purchase and shipping of wheelchairs. All administrative costs will be covered by MAC Georgia." 

Earlier this year, Thea Kokhreidze, a Georgian citizen who’s with the EBRD in London, met Jeremy Gaskill to talk about MAC Georgia and the work they are doing to improve the lives of persons with disabilities.

“The topic of wheelchairs came up and I described our efforts to match kids with the wheelchairs they need,” Gaskill told GEORGIAT TODAY. “Time passed and then I got a call from Thea saying that she’d like to recommend us to the EBRD Community Initiative’s Matching Program, suggesting this would be an excellent opportunity to raise the money needed to impact more lives. She submitted the application and the EBRD Community Initiative Program approved it.  As a result, the EBRD Community Initiative Program agreed in principle to match the funds we raise subject to the certain conditions.”

GEORGIA TODAY spoke to Thea Kokhreidze.

“I am very pleased to have the opportunity to support MAC Georgia in buying supportive wheelchairs for children in Georgia,” she told us. “I was amazed to learn how much MAC does in Georgia for people with disabilities and it didn’t take much time for the idea of fundraising to be born. Jeremy Gaskill and I decided to knock on every door to raise at least EUR 5,000 to buy supportive wheelchairs for kids mostly in rural parts of Georgia. Then I had the idea to approach my employer, EBRD, and get the initiative connected to its wonderful Community Initiative Program.”

Established in 2016, EBRD’s Community Initiative supports staff engagement in philanthropic and charitable activities related to EBRD’s country of operations (including Georgia). If a project is approved, EBRD doubles the funds raised.

“We are excited that ERBD’s Community Initiative Program approved our proposal,” Kokhreidze said. “This means that if we reach our goal of EUR 5,000, that this amount will be doubled by the EBRD, enabling us to buy at least 25 wheelchairs for children with disabilities across Georgia. Please consider giving. And please share our justgiving page with your friends and contacts.”


You can learn more about the EBRD and its Community Initiative Program here: https://www.ebrd.com/who-we-are-ebrd-community-initiative.html

You can watch a video on why it is important for disabled kids to have supportive wheelchairs. Please be warned that it includes images of severely disabled children.


Image source: MAC Georgia facebook page.


13 December 2018 15:05