By UNICEF estimates, there are more than two million children with disabilities in Iraq. When Texas native Brad Blauser went to Iraq in 2005 to work on an American base in Mosul, he noticed.
“When I came to Iraq as a civilian contractor, there were a lot of children who either dragged themselves on the ground or had to be carried,” Brad remembers.
Prior to 1990, Iraq had one of the Arab world’s best healthcare systems, but the invasion of Kuwait by Iraqi forces and the international embargoes on Baghdad that followed decimated the system. Today, along with deficient medical care, children with disabilities in Kurdistan and Iraq are subject to a negative societal stigma and viewed as burdens that often bring disgrace to their families.
When a US battalion surgeon spoke to him about the urgent need for wheelchairs in the war-torn country, Blauser stepped up, leaving base during non-working hours to deliver wheelchairs, often accompanied by military convoys into towns during the post-invasion conflict.
Since 2005, he has given away more than 650 specialized pediatric wheelchairs manufactured under Western standards.
To those who wonder why, Blauser says, “Everyone always asks me why I am wasting all my money and time helping kids whose own government doesn’t even care about them. And I say I am here to help because no one else will.”
His efforts during the war were recognized with a CNN Hero award, presented to individuals working for the common good of humanity, after which a lot of donated money came Blauser’s way, all used to acquire, send, and distribute wheelchairs.
In July 2009, non-profit Roc Wheels, his partner in the project, received a USAID World Learning Grant of $100K, which was used to outfit an existing factory near Baghdad to manufacture the wheelchairs locally for hospitals in Iraq and Kurdistan.
In late 2011, after US troops pulled out of the country, Blauser went home to Texas for a while, continuing to check on the factory’s progress. In 2012, the call came. The wheelchairs were ready for distribution.
During a recent visit to the city of Duhok in Iraqi Kurdistan, Blauser gave away 40 of the specialized chairs through the Early Detection of Childhood Disabilities (EDCD) center.
Dr. Raveem Saleem Doski, manager of the EDCD center, says, “These chairs are very important for the children and their parents, because they will help parents take better care of the child–and it’s comfortable for the child.”
Sadly, with this delivery, his supply of wheelchairs and money to accomplish his mission have been depleted. He’s now asking himself if he can or should continue his work.
If you want to help him answer that question, go to his web site, Wheelchairs for Kurdistan Kids, to show your support.