Brother Olly Pickett was building wheelchairs for children in a tiny workshop in Cambodia when he came across one of the youngest workers in the group.
The 15-year-old amputee was propped up on his knees, undeterred by the rough concrete floor he was kneeling on.
He was helping construct one of a dozen wheelchairs for children on the outskirts of the town who struggled to get to the local school each day.
Brother Pickett says at the end of his trip, the group decided to give the boy his own wheelchair.
“He was thrilled to bits, we gave him that wheelchair and honestly, I’ll never, ever forget that smile on his face,” he said.
Brother Pickett has been involved in Wheelchairs for Kids since it first started in 1998.
The WA charity runs out of a factory in the Perth suburb of Gnangara, and on a typical day is filled with more than 100 retiree volunteers working to construct various wheelchairs.
They chairs are then sent to impoverished and disabled children in under resourced countries like Iraq and Pakistan.
“It’s very rewarding, helping these little children that haven’t got a hope,” Brother Picket said.
Over the past 14 years, the charity has donated nearly 25,000 wheelchairs to children in more than 60 different countries.
“Sometimes they’re born with a disability, they’ve stood on a landmine, they’ve been injured at war or they have cerebral palsy and no one can help them,” Brother Olly said.
He says without intervention, some of the children are left immobile and unattended for most of the day.
“They just leave them in the corner, and the kids have to fend for themselves.”
Off the ground
Beppie Dekuyer, 70, says she wanted to be involved in the charity as soon as she heard about it.
“I could see how wonderful this project would be, to get children off the ground who have no way of getting a wheelchair.”
With Brother Pickett by her side, she has travelled around the world, distributing the wheelchairs her friends so carefully crafted in Perth.
She says all of their hard work was personified two years ago, when she met 21-year-old Edward in Vanuatu.
Physically disabled and incredibly impoverished, he’d been confined to a bed for most of his life.
“He would be lying down all day, and wherever he went, his parents had to carry him,” she said.
Ms Dekyer says the day they fitted Edward into a new wheelchair was one of the most memorable of her life.
“I think everybody was just crying, it was so moving and the parents were just so happy,” she said.
“To see the joy in not just the child’s face, but the whole family, they’re so thrilled that life becomes easier for them.”
Gerry Georgatos’ interest in the cause was piqued while he was working in the Student Guild at Murdoch University (as their General Manager).
He was approached by an Iraqi refugee, who told him about the thousands of young amputees in Iraq who had no way of moving around.
It was then that he came across Wheelchairs for Kids: the program he would ultimately coordinate.
Middle East delivery
Mr Georgatos spent the last seven years trying to raise funds to ship containers containing hundreds of pre-assembled wheelchairs to the Middle East.
“The next one leaves for Lebanon next week, it’s going to northern Lebanon where there’s a lot of civil strife, and no wheelchair assembly factories, and no way other than us to get those wheelchairs to kids,” he said.
He is currently in negotiations with the Israeli government to ensure another shipment headed to Palestine won’t be held up by authorities.
“Because of civil strife in the region sometimes they can get held up, so I’m trying to make sure they get to the children quickly.”
Mr Georgatos says while the organisation has changed the life of 25,000 children around the world, there’s still many more who are suffering.
“There are millions of children around the world without wheelchairs, and we only send thousands each year. But each one helps.”
And Brother Pickett says no one knows that more than the children themselves.
“A wheelchair makes a huge difference, they can get to school, they can get to the market, they can play with their friends and it gives them some dignity by getting off the floor.”
He says that’s the most rewarding thing about his work.
“I know I’m doing something to make a difference to a child that has no hope.”