By Army Spc. Maurice A. Galloway
Special to American Forces Press Service
Oct. 14, 2009 - U.S. troops and reconstruction team members in Iraq's Basra province completed what some say was a small task with a huge impact on improving the lives of some Iraqi families with disabled children. In a combined humanitarian aid effort, members from the 308th Civil Affairs Brigade, 17th Fires Brigade, 34th Infantry Division and the provincial reconstruction team distributed 20 wheelchairs to children with special needs at the Moosawii Private Hospital in Basra.
Wheelchairs for Iraqi Kids -- a nonprofit group created to meet the needs of Iraqi children who suffer from mobility-limiting disabilities such as cerebral palsy, chronic rheumatism and kyphoscoliosis – donated the wheelchairs.
"These children are carried everywhere, and these mothers are not going to be able to continue carrying these kids as they grow older," said Army Col. (Dr.) Michael B. Rath, 34th Infantry Division surgeon. "After speaking with these families, I found that most of these children have bed sores from lying down constantly. These wheelchairs will help with the reduction of those open wounds by giving the children a means of getting out of their beds."
At age 4, Husain Diaa was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, rendering him unable to control all of his motor functions. Having to carry her child around is the least of his mother's worries, as trying to provide the proper medicine and hospital treatment has left the family homeless and stripped of its life savings.
"I had to sell everything I own -- everything, including my house -- just to be able to afford his medicine," Husain's mother said as tears streamed down her face. "It touches my heart that these soldiers would give this wheelchair to my son. We need it so much, and I can't thank them enough."
Another recipient at the event, Jeehied Abdul Wahav, remarked on the life-changing effect the wheelchair will have for his 10-year-old daughter.
"I'm very grateful to the soldiers who took the time to do this," he said. "My daughter cannot walk, and I've been carrying her around. I've been afraid to send her to school because of this, although she's very smart. But now, the chair changes that."
Soldiers assembled the wheelchairs a week before the distribution, then customized them during the event to accommodate the each child's needs.
"It gives me joy to be able to give someone else joy," said Army Spc. LaFena Washington, a Minnesota native who helped with the distribution. "Back home, I'm very involved with community outreach. It's very fulfilling to be able to continue to give assistance and provide hope to those who really need it."
"It's good to have a collaborative group come together to complete a goal that benefits so many people that really need assistance," said Army Maj. Diane Greenpope, the provincial reconstruction team's health leader. "Assembling these wheelchairs was a very simple task, but the impact it had on the kids and their families will be very hard to forget."
A 17th Fires Brigade truck driver said he was happy to be able to help. "I'm normally driving or providing security for these events," said Army Sgt. Demont Moore, 1st Battalion, 377th Field Artillery Regiment, 17th Fires Brigade. "To actually have a hand in providing these wheelchairs is something that made me feel very proud."
(Army Spc. Maurice A. Galloway serves with the 17th Fires Brigade public affairs office.)