Snohomish man works with a mission to bring wheelchairs to disabled around the world

Missionary trips have taken Larry Bailly to different corners of the world.

The Snohomish mechanic saw the same thing throughout the Third World countries he visited:

People whose legs are paralyzed or injured have no way to get around because wheelchairs are too expensive. Some crawl on the ground; others rely on family members to carry them.

But there is a solution, and Bailly and the Snohomish Community Church are part of it.

The congregation last year got involved with Free Wheelchair Mission, a California-based nonprofit that works with organizations in developing countries to provide wheelchairs to the thousands of people who can’t afford them.

The organization’s founder, Don Schoendorfer, used his experience as a mechanical engineer to design a low-cost wheelchair. It incorporates inexpensive, easily available materials — a plastic chair and mountain bike tires. The chairs are made in China and shipped to different countries. It costs less than $70 to manufacture and deliver Schoendorfer’s wheelchair.

A majority of the world’s people with disabilities lives in developing countries, according to the organization’s website. Lack of access to medical care and education, and dangerous living conditions are among the chief reasons.

Bailly’s church held a fundraiser during the holiday season last year and raised $42,000. Half of it went to Free Wheelchair Mission and paid for 370 wheelchairs.

The rest of the money raised went to Kirkland-based Antioch Adoptions.

Bailly, the short-term missions coordinator at his church, traveled to Vietnam to put together and distribute the wheelchairs.

“A lot of the people who got the wheelchairs had been immobile for decades,” he said. “They’d never had the opportunity to get up off the ground and see the world around them.”

The trip was transformative in other ways, Bailly said. A Vietnam War veteran, he was glad to find himself in the vibrant country Vietnam has become.

Bailly also has served on missions in Haiti for the past 10 years and plans to return there in January.

This year, he said Snohomish Community Church hopes to raise enough money to buy an entire container of wheelchairs, which they will send to a hospital in Niger. The doctor who runs the hospital, Christopher Zoolkoski, grew up in Alderwood Manor.

“I want to keep getting the feeling that I got in Vietnam, that feeling of making a real, immediate impact on someone’s life,” Bailly said.

Katya Yefimova: 425-339-3452; kyefimova@heraldnet.com.

Get involved

To learn more about Free Wheelchair Mission, go to www.freewheelchairmission.org. To contact Larry Bailly, email him at baillybusbarn@juno.com or call Snohomish Community Church at 425-334-9181.

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