Years ago, a speaker issued a challenge that impacted me: “Given who you are right now, how can you best make a difference in the world for good?”
I could have answered this question differently at various stages in my life. Sometimes, at first, it seemed that I was doing nothing useful at all. But I began to see that little things could make a big difference, such as positive changes to my attitude, being present to my family, or encouraging one person at a time. God later opened doors for me to teach at a university, and now he is opening doors for my husband Phil and me to be catalysts in a process that will bring hope to those living with disabilities in low-income countries.
While Phil and I were working as professors, I was leading a research project on wheelchair function in low-resource countries. Through my research, I got to know the sources behind resources for training and wheelchairs designed for use in low-income countries. Having grown up in Kenya, I was familiar with faith-based health providers. I knew many weren’t connected with the wheelchair resources becoming available. This hurt my heart because I had seen Kenyan children, who weren’t able to walk, lying in a corner of their homes. These kids were alone and suffering from pressure sores in communities served by faith-based health providers. It takes training for a therapist to fit a wheelchair to a child properly.
I knew that training was available, and wheelchairs were available too! Feeling isolated and cursed is harder than any physical limitation or difficulty. Faith-based health providers are in a position to address this pain! If we could just connect the resources to the hospitals, these children and their families could move from isolation to hope. Often the pain that people with disabilities express first is social and spiritual pain.
Phil and I realized that we could do something about that. We wanted to leverage our professional skills to restore hope for those with disabilities. As IDEAS Associates, we initiated the Assistive Technology Catalyst Project.
Making wheelchairs and care available through faith-based hospitals will require significant cultural changes. Faith-based health providers are often focused on acute care; change is needed to include those with chronic disabilities. Organizations who provide funds have worked through government initiatives; change is needed to include faith-based health providers. Well-intentioned people have sometimes distributed wheelchairs with no local long-term care; change is needed to connect them with faith-based health providers. Local cultures often see disability as shameful; change is needed for those with disabilities to be welcomed into community and church.
Wheelchair provision programs are being initiated by several faith-based health providers in Kenya. Amazingly, doors are opening! The World Health Organization has accepted an abstract I submitted on the benefits of working with faith-based health providers. I will be speaking this September to executives of 50 organizations involved in faith-based health provision around the world.
The process of making wheelchair services available through faith-based health providers is not going to be fast, or easy, and maybe it won’t happen the way we hope. But it is a huge honor to be involved in opening doors as this process begins.
So now I will ask you, “Given who you are right now, how can you best make a difference in the world for good?”
About the Author: Karen and her husband Phil have been IDEAS Associates since 2017. Karen is a speaker at the WHO Conference in 2019 and has been leading a research project conducting field studies on wheelchair function in Kenya, which has connected her to organizations providing wheelchairs and training for wheelchair providers. Click here to read more about Karen's work through AT Catalyst.