Disabled children in the Kurdistan Region and other areas of Iraq face a very bleak life. According to UNICEF, many of Iraq’s two million disabled children are confined to their rooms, never seeing the outside world. One man from Texas is on a mission to change the lives of these kids, one wheelchair at a time.
Brad Blauser has been working since 2005 to provide specialized wheelchairs to kids with a wide range of disabilities. His mission began while he was working as a contractor on an American base in Mosul during the US-led invasion. A US battalion surgeon told him about the need for wheelchairs for children in the war-torn region, and he took it upon himself to leave the base and find them. He was often escorted by military convoys, as his time in Iraq was during the height of the post-invasion sectarian conflict, making travel incredibly dangerous.
“I knew it was dangerous, but I was doing it for the kids,” Blauser said.
The work that Blauser did in Iraq earned him a CNN hero award. The award is given by the news network to individuals who are working for the common good of mankind. Most importantly, the award came with a featured news story that generated a significant amount of donations towards Blauser’s cause. However, once the media frenzy passed, the donations dwindled.
Fast forward to 2009, and Roc Wheels, a non-profit organization that partners with Blauser, was awarded $100,000 World Learning Grant from USAID, which was used to build a manufacturing plant in Iraq. It also covered the cost of the first 350 wheelchairs that were made there.
“These chairs are very important for the children and for the parents, because they will help parents take better care of the child — and it’s comfortable for the child,” said Dr Raving Saleem Doski, manager of Early Detection of Childhood Disabilities center, where Blauser recently spent four days and gave away 40 of the pediatric chairs to children.
“Instead of being put in bed for 24 hours a day, the child can sit up and see the world around,” Doski explained.
Unfortunately, it costs money to make wheelchairs, and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) placed his request for funding for the production of 600 more chairs into their queue. According to the Kurdistan Region’s Minister of Labor and Social Affairs, the funding simply isn’t available.
“Even until this point I am just a man, with now a very small budget, almost out of money and almost out of wheelchairs. Which creates the next question, do we continue?” Blauser contemplated.
“That is a question the people here in Kurdistan will have to answer. There are so many children, in so many villages, in so many areas that need these chairs,” he explained.
Sadly, there is inadequate medical care for disabled children in the region, along with a very negative social stigma regarding those with disabilities. Disabled children are viewed as a burden and disgrace to their families.
“Everyone always asks me why I am wasting all my money and time helping kids whose own government doesn’t even care about,” Blauser said. “And I say I am here to help because no one else will.”
You’ll see in the video how one man can make a difference. Do you personally know any heroes like Brad Blauser, who are committed to a special cause despite the difficulty they face? We’d love to hear about them!