February-March 2015 | Features

From a caterpillar to a butterfly

From a caterpillar to a butterfly

In a contributory role, Rotary member Dave King spoke to Milton Frary of the Wheelchair Foundation about its life changing work.


Pakistan's commitment

February-March 2015

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Within the Rotary family, Milton Frary is affectionately known by friends as Del Boy. Just like the Only Fools & Horses’ TV character, he is known as a wheelerdealer who gets things done.

That’s why in the past 10 years this active Rotarian, a member of Wetherby & District Club, has established the Wheelchair Foundation. It is now a formidable force, transforming the lives of thousands of people across the globe. In fact, since the charity was established in the UK in 2004, nearly 31,000 wheelchairs have been delivered to 29 countries, notably in Africa, Nepal, Pakistan,the Caribbean, and the Philippines to Eastern Europe.

But the job is far from done. “According to World Health Organisation figures, there is a need for 150 million wheelchairs in the world, so the work that we are doing is only just scratching the surface,” admitted Milton.

“Disabled people are hidden away, and it’s only when you turn up to a place that you find more disabled folk than are actually registered.”

On the final day of the district conference in 2003, Milton challenged fellow Rotarians to donate enough money to buy a container’s worth of wheelchairs to send to Africa – that’s 280 wheelchairs, total value £14,000.

“We raised enough money to send four containers!” Milton remarked.

When Peter Offer became Rotary International in Great Britain and Ireland president two years later, he adopted the Wheelchair Foundation as his charity, raising a staggering £500,000 to really establish the cause. Peter and his wife Janis became fully involved, visiting Romania and South Africa to present wheelchairs to hundreds of people of all ages and from all walks of life. “Nothing could have prepared us for the experience,” said Peter at the time. “From the small child who was brought in a wheelbarrow, to the lady with twin teenage girls who, for 15 years, had relied on her husband to carry her around. The stories were endless.”

The high quality and easily-maintained wheelchairs are manufactured in China. Each would normally cost £350 in the UK, but because of the large quantities ordered they can be delivered for £75 each.

Once, I was a caterpillar crawling on the ground, today I am a butterfly”

A retired bank manager, Milton is laid back about his role, now a trustee, as a catalyst for anamazing initiative which allows children to go to school, adults to work, and older people to once again become an active part of family life and society.

“You do what you can,” he said. “I took this project and developed it for the UK thinking someone else might take it on. In the end, it came down to me. It has become something of a full-time job, but I am doing something that I want to do and that I enjoy.”

Besides fund-raising to buy more wheelchairs, the charity is now looking to organise repair workshops in developing countries to maintain the equipment. There is also work to be done working with physiotherapists to help them teach carers.

The journey has only just begun, but it is a rewarding one with Rotary very much at the heart of the project.

A few years ago, Milton was in the gem-rich South African city of Kimberley to deliverwheelchairs to a number of disabled people.

He came across one girl in her early 20s, who offered a beaming smile when she saw the wheelchairs. So poor was her family that for years the only way of getting anywhere was to shuffle around. The girl looked at Milton, delighted at how this very simple wheelchair was going to transform her life. “Once, I was a maggot crawling on the ground, today I am a butterfly,” she told him.

It is a memorable line which has stuck in Milton’s mind ever since. Surely Dell Boy can now be fairly described as a diamond geezer!

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