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AfterWord: Whitworth alumni in their own words

Wheelchairs from Jesus
by Ron Rice, '58

Villagers congregate to check out a new wheelchair.

Nigeria has the highest incidence of polio in the world. Tens of thousands of children and adults spend their lives crawling on the ground, and nobody is doing anything significant about it – not donor agencies, not government agencies, not NGOs. Most of the victims are hidden away. If you can't get further from your little house in the village than you can crawl, how often are you going to be out in public? Children can't go to school unless someone carries them. They become throwaway children, a burden and a disgrace to their families. In January 2009, the Gates Foundation pledged $255 million, Rotary International $100 million, the German and British governments each over $100 million, all for polio eradication, which is absolutely wonderful. But they pledged zero for polio's victims.

My wife, Sharon, and I have been doing volunteer mission work in Nigeria since 1998 – 16 trips so far. My initial project was developing teachers' manuals for Christian Religious Knowledge (CRK) teachers in Nigeria's public schools. These sets of six 500-page manuals are now in use in more than 2,500 junior high and high schools and have already improved Bible teaching for millions of Nigeria's teenagers.
Gufwan (left) and Rice

At a CRK teacher's workshop, in 1999, I met a young teacher, Ayuba Gufwan, who, as a result of his having had polio, walks on his hands. That providential meeting has led to an amazing partnership. Together, we have now built and donated more than 2,600 wheelchairs. This is far, far more than the number donated by any organization in Nigeria, a country that has half the population of the U.S. We have our own shop, in Jos, Nigeria, with 21 employees (five who are crippled by polio), where, for $150 each, we build three-wheeled, self-pedaled tricycles made of bicycle parts.

Watch the five-minute video at www.wheelchairsfornigeria.org to get an overview of our work. The photography skills that got their start at Whitworth in the 1950s, when I was the campus' student photographer, have enabled me to share this need. I've shown the powerful images of Nigerian polio victims to churches, schools and other audiences. Most Americans have never seen children and adults crawling on the ground because, as polio victims, they have no other way to get around. It breaks your heart. Wherever I show my videos, people are deeply moved, and many contribute to our cause. Where else can you transform a child's life and give him or her a future for $150?

My friend Ayuba had polio when he was four. His father, a simple farmer in a remote village, sent him to a rehabilitation center. When Ayuba finished the third grade, his father told him it was a waste to spend any more money on school fees for a boy who walked on his hands. It wasn't until Ayuba was 19 that his uncle built him a wheelchair and made it possible for his nephew to attend fourth-grade classes. With great determination, Ayuba went right through school, including three years of teachers' college. On his first day on the job as a teacher, his principal sent him to the workshop where we met.

Ayuba has now graduated from the University of Jos, and he is the only university graduate in the history of his village. Imagine, a young man who walks on his hands is his village's Number One Son! More than 1,500 villagers attended Ayuba's wedding (the story appears on the website). His example is a powerful inspiration to the disabled, and it helps to dispel the stereotype held among many Africans that a disabled person can never amount to anything.

Polio eradication in Nigeria received a huge setback in 2003, when the Supreme Sharia Council, comprising Nigeria's top Muslim leaders, called for a moratorium on all polio vaccinations due to a rumor that the vaccine contained an anti-fertility component and was a conspiracy of the West to depopulate Islam. Polio infections shot up, and the Nigerian strain has spread to other Muslim countries in Africa and Asia.

Our ministry reaches out to people of all beliefs. In one remote area in 2007, some Muslim militants began insisting that wheelchair recipients remove the statement "Jesus cares for you," which is stenciled on the chairs. The dispute was carried to the village head, a Muslim. He said, "Jesus brought you these wheelchairs, and if you remove Jesus' name, he may come and take the wheelchairs back. Besides, Jesus' name is in the Qur'an and nobody has removed Jesus' name from the Qur'an. So tell the Christians that if Jesus wants to bring more wheelchairs, he is most welcome!" Ayuba and I returned for the third time to this remote town in October 2009 to give out 30 more wheelchairs, half to Christians and half to Muslims.

For more information about this ministry, e-mail RonRice@ronrice.us. Information re: tax deductions is available on the website.

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