Michael Rodda spent most of his working years as an educational psychologist, assisting people with disabilities, particularly deaf children. Ironically, he is now losing his own hearing.
Since his retirement, Rodda, 74, has devoted his time to volunteering with the Knights of Columbus at St. Theresa's Parish, specifically with the wheelchair program. Now he is using a donated wheelchair himself.
The wheelchair program is a joint project between the Knights of Columbus and the Canadian Wheelchair Foundation. The foundation strives to provide a wheelchair to every man, woman and child who needs one, but has no means to acquire one.
Since 2003, the Knights of Columbus have sponsored the delivery of tens of thousands of wheelchairs to people in need all over the world. Rodda got involved in the program in spring 2011.
"I'm doing field testing, in a strange way, with a wheelchair because of injuries I sustained in an accident," he said.
While leaving a K of C meeting at the church on Oct. 19, 2011, Rodda was struck by a car. Since then, he has been using a wheelchair donated through the Knights' wheelchair program.
Councils, parishes or individuals are able to sponsor containers full of wheelchairs to the country of their choice.
"There is a tremendous need worldwide for wheelchairs for people who don't have them. One of the big projects was for the people in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. There were a lot of amputations after the earthquake, and one of the single largest supplies of wheelchairs went to them," said Rodda.
Afghanistan, with its ongoing war, has been another major recipient of wheelchairs. Wheelchairs are provided to the disabled community of Afghanistan in an effort to promote socio-economic development and peace. The program has a long-lasting impact on employment, literacy, health and poverty.
The Wheelchair Foundation can purchase and deliver a wheelchair to its distribution partners for about $150. This wheelchair would normally cost $600 in Canada, but the large quantities they purchase allow them to deliver them at lower costs. This same type of 21-kg, foldable wheelchair sells for up to $1,800 in some developing countries.
The tendency to write off people with disabilities as unimportant is a problem everywhere, said Rodda. When they can regain their mobility, their self-worth is greatly improved.
"Providing a wheelchair to a person in need in any country, whether in Canada or wherever, is probably one of the most beneficial things you can do for that person. It gives them mobility and dignity."
Wheelchair Sunday parish drives are held in churches across the country and have sponsored thousands of wheelchairs for faraway places.
"Giving them a modern, Canadian wheelchair, it's like giving them a Rolls Royce," he said.
At first, Rodda and the Knights at St. Theresa's Parish set modest goals for the program. An initial goal was to raise enough for a dozen wheelchairs or so.
But within six months, the Knights and parishioners had raised $17,500, enough to pay for a three-metre container full of wheelchairs.
St. Theresa's Parish has some of the worst family poverty in Edmonton, said Rodda. Many of those poor families have made significant contributions to the wheelchair program.
A mother and her three children counted up every penny they had to give to the Knights. The mother rummaged through her purse, and the children gave coins from their pockets. They donated $5.25 in a polythene baggie.
Rodda said like the widow's mite, the family emptied their pockets to help out. The family gave everything it had.
"It was very moving to see the way our parishioners responded," he said.
The next goal was to raise enough money for a 12-metre container full of wheelchairs, and that goal was also achieved in under a year.