Mission of mobility

Island Rotarians take a thousand wheelchairs to India

Elizabeth Celms
Mercer Island Reporter

Surrounded by his fellow Rotarians, Mercer Island resident Ray Brook watched as more than 100 disabled Indian men, women and children pulled themselves into brand new wheelchairs — some for the very first time. In total, 1,100 wheelchairs will be distributed to the needy people of Akola, India, thanks to a recent charity organized by Mercer Island Rotary. Two weeks after his visit to Akola, Brook is still emotional when recounting the hospital scene.

“People literally came in crawling on their hands and knees — some children, some older,” said Brook. “They all left with huge smiles on their faces, with the freedom of mobility.” In addition to delivering nearly half of the 1,100 wheelchairs set to be given to the people of Akola (the other portion will be delivered in the near future), MI Rotary visited a number of local schools and witnessed the development of a Rotary-funded “water catchment” — the first of 21 dams designed to protect farmers’ crops from flooding during the monsoon season.

All three projects are a joint effort between MI Rotary and its affiliate Indian organization, the Akola Midtown Rotary Club, with help from the Vishal Himalaya Foundation (VHF), an NGO started by Islanders Yogi and Eva Agrawal.

“Building and sustaining relationships is the theme of this project,” Eva Agrawal said. “Most of the families in Akola are either Hindu or Jain. Culturally, it’s a very different place.”

Similar in population to Seattle, the Akola area in central India has 500,000 people. Its surrounding region, which includes about 1,000 villages, is home to 1.5 million people.

VHF’s primary focus in Akola was providing schools with new computers, a library system and exercise equipment. With support from MI Rotary and Teachers without Borders, VHF also financed a large-screen computer projection system for teacher video training.

Although MI Rotary has reached out to other parts of the world, these are the first projects it has facilitated in India.

“A few of the members with us had worked on H20 projects in Africa and elsewhere,” Brook said. “Here in India, the dams are especially important. They keep the water back during the flood season, giving farmers more time [to rear their crops.]”

Prior to arriving in Akola, the group of 23 toured North India, visiting New Delhi, Old Delhi and the wondrous Taj Mahal in Agrah. A number of Rotarians were also invited to stay with host families, giving them a glimpse of life in a wealthy Indian household.

“The Akola Rotary wanted to do a cultural exchange and MI Rotarians were enthusiastic about this,” Agrawal said. “Those who wanted to stay with families in Akola city did. They were all upper-class households.”

Agrawal added that she was deeply impressed with the hosts’ generosity. Not only were the Islanders treated with respect and kindness, but the group was invited to attend an Indian wedding.

“We came back with reflections on comparisons between the abundant needs of India and the abundant resources of Mercer Island,” Brook said. “We have a greater appreciation of our global society.”

For more information about the Mercer Island Rotary club and their projects, go to

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