Years ago, the up-close sight of people in Africa dragging themselves across the ground to get around gave retired missionary Larry Hills the idea for durable, hand-cranked vehicles dubbed Personal Energy Transportation devices, or PETs for short.
Today, hundreds are built and shipped by volunteers from a facility in the Penney Farms retirement community to people in developing countries who have lost the use of their legs because of injury, illness or birth defects. The goal this year is to craft and ship at least 800.
Some volunteers may never see the people who actually climb onto a PET and hand-propel themselves away on their new life-changing gift.
But a visit late last year from a young woman from Nigeria, Seun Oke, who lost her ability to walk to polio at age 4, brought home some of the drama of how a simple assistance device can help people rise above devastating disabilities. PET Florida, which has Methodist ties, was among affiliated sites Oke visited while in the U.S. for the 2014 PET International Annual Conference.
“PET changed my life to be socialized with people, to know how to associate with people,” Oke, now in her late 20s, told a crowd gathered in October for the conference in Columbia, Missouri. She demonstrated how she mounts and moves her PET cart. She was able to receive vocational training and get a civil service job as a result of her mobility.
“So PET changed my life totally in the way of going to school so I have a chance,” she said. “Without this PET, I can’t do anything. Without this PET, I then believe I can’t reach where I am today.”
Listeners were touched by her story when she visited the PET production facility in north Florida, said Barbara Chase, volunteer office manager at the Penney Farms site.
“She rode around the retirement community campus, got into each building as needed, wove her way between tables in the dining room – perfectly at home in her PET,” Chase said in an email.
To reach the goal of producing 800 carts, PET Florida must raise $200,000 by June 30, according to the organization’s March 2015 newsletter. Donations so far total about $116,000. PET International receives funding through the General Board of Global Ministries, but PET Florida depends on local donations.
For information, visit petflorida.org.
-- Susan Green is the managing editor of Florida Conference.