Archive for Sunday, January 9, 2005

Volunteers help victims of land mines

Group makes mobility devices for disabled in Third World countries

January 9, 2005


— The whine of electric saws fill the early morning air, emanating from a nondescript metal building just outside the city limits of Mount Vernon. Though the sounds may be commonplace in this rural southwest Missouri setting, inside miraculous things are being built.

Although people have come to expect miracles, this group of volunteers is in the business of making them, in the form of Personal Energy Transfer machines. These individual mobility units will then be shipped to third-world countries and used to assist those who have been injured by land mines in war-torn lands around the world.

Humanitarian issues concerning those who have been irreparably harmed due to abandoned anti-personnel land mines were brought to worldwide attention when the late Princess Diana made a visit to Angola in 1997. Not only did Diana visit the victims of land mine injuries, but she donned protective equipment and stepped into an area where land mines still are known to exist.

Her actions brought censure from the House of Windsor, but Diana continued to state her humanitarian stance on the issue of land mines.

The furor caused by her comments resulted in the Ottawa Treaty calling for a ban on the use of land mines in March 1999, but key countries, including the United States, have yet to sign the treaty. The Ottawa Convention bans the use, production, stockpiling and transfer of anti-personnel mines and calls for mined areas to be cleared within 10 years.

Helping victims

Princess Diana noted in a speech to the Land Mine Survivors Network that many of the injuries from land mines were received after military troops had left the area and abandoned the mines. Refugees returning to their homes after the war, farmers plowing in their fields and children coming home from school are common victims.

While celebrity figures such as Danny Glover, Michael Douglas, Robert Guillaume and Angelina Jolie continue to crusade on the forefront, a quiet group of local volunteers, headed by Jim Wrinkle, of Aurora, has decided to do something for those who have already become victims of the abandoned weapons.

Thus, PET of Southwest Missouri was developed. This small group of men and women hope to make a dent in the more than 3.5 million survivors of land mine injuries who need this product.

"This transportation unit allows people in Third World countries, who do not have the use of their legs, become mobile," said Wrinkle.

High demand

A hand crank assembly that is similar to a bicycle chain and sprocket but is powered by hands instead of feet puts the aluminum-framed cart into motion.

"We can't manufacture these units fast enough," Wrinkle said. "Someone steps on a land mine every 20 minutes. The polio virus, which was started because a vaccine was administered incorrectly, is running rampant through Africa. Young men off the coast of Mexico who are injured while diving for lobsters are paralyzed from the waist down because of a condition known as the 'bends.'

"We have three major sources of injuries, and no answers in how to prevent them."

The project began because Larry Hills, a missionary in Africa for over 33 years, came back to Missouri and told of people crawling around in the dirt because they didn't have the use of their legs. He asked what could be done to help those people.

Hill visited with Mel West in Columbia, who in turn touched base with Earl Miner, a design engineer in Marshfield. Miner designed the PET.

"The way we got involved locally," Wrinkle explained, "was that the 3M group of Sunday School men hosted a spaghetti dinner and raised enough money to buy three of these units."

It costs about $250 to manufacture each PET.

"We wanted to do more," Wrinkle said.

Expanding idea

Traveling to Columbia last July, Wrinkle and his wife, Glenda, along with Bill Baker, were shown how the manufacturing process worked.

After a follow-up trip in August, the project rapidly took flight.

Wrinkle said the PET board, which oversees about 40 groups of volunteers who manufacture the units, is in the process of forming an international board similar to the model for Habitat for Humanity.

The units are distributed through various missionary groups throughout the world.

"What most people don't know is that in a lot of these places, the average income is $100 a year," Wrinkle explained. "Even at a cost of $250 in materials for us to make these units, most people in Third World countries where these are needed couldn't afford them."

Only limited by funds

The project got off the ground amazingly quickly from the time discussion started until the time they cranked out their first unit.

But angels can't fly without wings, and in this case, these miracle workers are in need of additional equipment, money and volunteer labor to help assemble the units.

"All the money donated to PET goes toward the purchase of materials or equipment," said Wrinkle. "There are no administrative fees. Volunteers do all those things.

"We're spreading our message to any church, civic group or organization that invites us to speak," he continued. "The biggest thing is we're only limited by the amount of funds we receive. But I have lofty goals. I'd love nothing more than to see this place open eight or 12 hours a day, five days a week. Then we might start making a dent in that 3.5 million people."

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