Two summers ago, while teaching disabled women in Uganda how to build their own wheelchairs, Jenny Kern witnessed firsthand the need for her labor. “Women came crawling into our training on their hands and knees with kids strapped on their backs,” says Kern, a wheelchair rider and former director of Whirlwind Women, a San Francisco-based organization that helps women in developing countries make their own wheelchairs. “These women have so little; it’s really impossible not to act.”
The group was started in 1995 after disabled women’s rights activists met up at the Beijing Conference on Women. It was the brainchild of three Bay Area women who were concerned that men got first dibs on donated wheelchairs and dominated workshops for wheelchair construction. So they created Whirlwind Women and started two projects run by disabled women.
The first, in Kampala, Uganda, was established in 1999 and is already producing folding wheelchairs—a necessity for bus travel. The second, in San Luis Potosi, Mexico, expects to turn out finished chairs by summer’s end.
Honora Hunter, a trainer for Whirlwind Women, sums up the group’s philosophy: “It’s great seeing women get wheelchairs, but even more gratifying to see them make their own.”
For more information, contact Whirlwind Women through its parent organization, Whirlwind Wheelchair International: San Francisco State University, 1600 Holloway Avenue, San Francisco, Calif. 94132 > (415) 338-6277 > http://whirlwind.sfsu.edu.