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No wheelchairs, no school: Utah nonprofit helps disabled children in Rwanda

By Mark Shenefelt - | Nov 24, 2021

Photo supplied, Angel Riders Wheelchairs

In this undated photo, a disabled Rwandan boy receives a wheelchair built and provided by Angel Riders Wheelchairs. Two Utah couples, Steven and Sheryl Bailey of South Ogden and Brent and Cheri Andrus of Park City, founded the program. The nonprofit builds and delivers 500 chairs a year in Rwanda.

SOUTH OGDEN — Steven Bailey is doing his part to see that disabled children in Rwanda won’t go without wheelchairs.

Bailey, a retired building contractor who lives in South Ogden, and his wife, Sheryl, along with a Park City couple, Brent and Cheri Andrus, founded Angel Rider Wheelchairs, which builds hundreds of chairs each year for impoverished kids in the African nation.

“The need is just astronomical worldwide,” Bailey said. The World Health Organization has estimated that 75 million people who need a wheelchair don’t have one.

The Baileys and Andruses became aware of the problem when they served humanitarian missions in Rwanda for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Later, they decided to form a nonprofit to build wheelchairs for Rwandan children.

Bailey said they’ve provided more than 2,000 chairs since they started five years ago, including 400 in 2019 and 500 in 2020.

Photo supplied, Angel Riders Wheelchairs

In this undated photo, Steven Bailey of South Ogden poses while working in Rwanda with the Angel Rider Wheelchairs nonprofit, which builds wheelchairs for children in the impoverished nation.

William Akami, Angel Rider’s manager in Rwanda, said in a video about the program that most disabled Rwandan children only get out of the house when they’re sick. “So it’s terrible for them,” Akami said. “Without wheelchairs, no school. With the wheelchair, they can go outside and play with the other kids — feel life, feel like life exists.”

The nonprofit has a physical therapist who visits families and determines wheelchair and customization needs for the disabled. The team delivers a chair, checks back in with the family to track progress and reports results.

Akami said the team works with Rwanda’s National Council for Persons with Disabilities to identify the neediest families. He said the poorest families make just $200 a year, which means buying a wheelchair is impossible.

Bailey said the chairs are built in the Angel Rider shop in Rwanda. The Baileys, Andruses, others and several large donors have contributed to the program. “I had a neighbor knock on the door and hand us a check for $10,000,” he said. “We don’t have to ask people.”

He said they’ve raised $1 million and are not looking to raise more. “There is no overhead,” he said. “All the money goes to the wheelchairs.”

Photo supplied, Angel Rider Wheelchairs

In this undated photo, William Akami, Rwanda manager of Angel Rider Wheelchairs, explains the program to build hundreds of wheelchairs each year for disabled children.

The team changed the wheelchair’s design because many of the disabled children have cerebral palsy. The chairs now have customized padding for head support. “Little by little, we have improved the chair as we went along with the needs,” Bailey said.

The Baileys’ son David, a building contractor who lives in Mountain Green, got involved in solving the wheelchair problem by launching a similar effort, Overland One Foundation. David’s wife, Alyssa, also is involved in the project. Steven Bailey said Overland provided 500 chairs in Ecuador last year.

“It’s unbelievable the need that’s out there,” Steven Bailey said. In the United States, there are needs, but domestically we can manage them, he said. In developing nations, “people don’t have the resources to fix their problems.”

“We decided to do something about it,” he said. “We do what we can.”


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