Exmouth woman helps give wheelchairs wings

PUBLISHED: 14:20 23 October 2013

Rachel with her wheelchair

Rachel with her wheelchair


Working as self-employed ‘home help’ whilst running a website and a family sounds tough enough as it is, but what if a seemingly impossible task was asked of you? Most of us would probably shy away from the challenge of getting a low-cost wheelchair to an elderly woman in a remote African village, but for Caron Sprake it was a task she was determined to complete, as ELLIS TAYLOR discovers

Iain Mclarty, director of Great Range Mobility, with the wheelchair he donatedIain Mclarty, director of Great Range Mobility, with the wheelchair he donated

In February 2013 a very interesting email landed in Caron’s inbox via her website caroncares.co.uk, a woman named Veronicah asked Caron to help her obtain a wheelchair for her elderly aunt. She soon discovered that Veronicah lived in the remote village of Mbooni in Kenya, approximately 6,719 miles from Caron’s home in Exmouth.

Like Caron, Veronicah is a carer. She cares for the elderly members of her village, as well as some children, most of whom have lost a parent. Veronicah is also a widow and a mother, with no money to purchase a wheelchair herself.

Agnes with her donated wheelchairAgnes with her donated wheelchair

It was a daunting task, but Caron refused to fail and named her new project ‘Wheelchairs by Wings’.

Caron said “When I learnt where she was I just thought ‘Lets give it a try and see if I can help’ whilst knowing logistically it was almost impossible.”

Caron contacted every organisation she could think of, including Red Cross, World Health Organisation, the Wheelchair Association and many more. Unfortunately, there were very few responses and not a single offer of help.

Eventually, the orthopaedic services manager for the Nairobi branch of the Association for the Physically Disabled of Kenya offered to donate a wheelchair, but insisted that the patient must travel a round trip of 260 kilometres each time for two fittings– a journey impossible for such an elderly and infirm woman in a remote village.

Not only was there an issue of travel, but Veronicah’s cousins, the children of her elderly aunt, would not accept the wheelchair. Nevertheless, Caron realised that there were still other members of the village she could help; she refused to be beaten and assured Veronicah that she would think of a solution.

Caron jumped back onto her computer and contacted every helicopter charter company in East Africa. She received one reply from Richard Leach of Hybrid Solutions – it would cost up to £3,000 in flying time and so would be cheaper to buy a wheelchair in the UK and fly it over to Nairobi. Once again, it seemed that ‘Wheelchairs by Wings’ would never be successful, but Richard offered to cover the transport costs.

With an offer of free transportation all Caron needed was a wheelchair donation from the UK, and after another batch of emails she was offered a wheelchair by Iain Mclarty, director of Great Range Mobility. With a wheelchair and transport sorted, Caron decided that there was one more thing she should do, she personally purchased and donated a second wheelchair to Veronicah’s village.

After a week of sitting in customs, the wheelchairs reached the village of Mbooni. Iain’s wheelchair was donated to Rachel, an 86-year-old woman, and Caron’s donated wheelchair has been given to Sarah, another elderly woman in the village.

But it was not a success story of just two wheelchairs; the first chair offered by the orthopedic services manager for the Nairobi branch of the Association for the Physically Disabled of Kenya became available through one fitting. This wheelchair was given to Agnes, a 67-year-old who has been left unable to walk or speak without assistance following a stroke.

“When I knew it was actually going to happen and 3 wheelchairs were going to help the elderly in need I was quite emotional to be honest,” Caron explained, “Now I still pinch myself sometimes to think I made it happen and have changed the lives of these women to some extent.”

So what’s next for Caron Cares and ‘Wheelchairs by Wings’? Caron says “The future for ‘Caron Cares’ as I see it is to build a team of experts who can bring to the table a different element of care for the elderly.

I plan to continue to support Mbooni and other Kenyan villages and will approach KLM as they will fly items of ‘excess baggage’ to Nairobi”

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