Sid Rooy ’50 knows that the landscapes of South and Central America are not only breathtaking, they are often life-shattering. A professor of church and mission history in seminaries in Argentina and Costa Rica for 36 years, Rooy met many men, women and children crippled by land mines and suffering from polio. In retirement he’s helping some of them put their lives back together.
Rooy and his wife, Mae Harriet Van Dyke Rooy ’49, live at the Penney Farms Retirement Community in northeast Florida. Also a resident there is Larry Hills, an agriculturalist and former missionary to Zambia and the Congo. Distressed at how land mine and polio victims and others who had lost the use of their legs were forced into stunted lives in rural Africa, Hills and two friends in the United States designed what they called PETs—Personal Energy Transportation vehicles. When Hills retired to Penney Farms, he set up a shop to build PETs and rolled out his first one in May 2001, the month the Rooys arrived at Penney Farms—and the month Sid Rooy volunteered to help on the PET production line.
“We call it ‘the wheelchair that goes where wheelchairs can’t go,’” Rooy said.
The PET rolls on wide wheelbarrow-type wheels, ideal for the rough terrain that renders conventional wheelchairs useless. The wheels turn under power of a simple hand crank. Both adult- and child-size vehicles are made. The vehicle’s wooden body has a space in the back that allows its owner to carry up to a 200-pound load.
“Before receiving their PETs, these folks, if they ventured out at all, had to crawl through the dirt or be carried,” Rooy said. “A PET gives them the tremendous gift of mobility. They can operate a small business, work in the fields, go to school and church, get married—all things they couldn’t dream of before.”
Testimonial letters from recipients convey the impact a PET has: “Now I can enter my classroom like a man, not an animal.” “After three years in a dark room I have seen the sun again.” “I don’t have to crawl through the mud when it rains.”
For $250, a PET can be built and delivered to any point in the United States. Mission and diaconal agencies, wheelchair distributors such as Hope Haven, Mercy Ships and others take PETs to areas of greatest need and give them away free of charge, “according to need, not creed,” Rooy said.
And it’s a need the United Nations estimates is growing by 3,000 people a month, just from land mine injuries. Add to that people crippled by accidents and disease in the poorest countries, and the need is, Rooy admits, “overwhelming.”
So though volunteers like Sid Rooy at Penney Farms and 11 other U.S. production sites, plus three overseas, have made and given away more than 13,000 PETs in 60 countries, they encourages others to form PET affiliates. Three days of training at Penney Farms under Larry Hills’ guidance supplies all the instructions and templates a new affiliate needs to build the vehicles. Each affiliate supplies an entirely volunteer labor force.
Sid Rooy is quick to say that disabled people thousands of miles from Penney Farms are not the only beneficiaries of the PET project. “It gives us the joy of being with like-minded people to work out the principles of justice and love in service to ‘the least of these’ in God’s kingdom.”
The PET Project at Penney Farms (904-284-5495) welcomes inquiries, visitors, long- and short-term volunteers.
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