Thursday, May 31, 2007


He approached me with a huge bag of pop tabs and a big grin on his face. I'd just finished doing a workshop for people with disabilities and was getting ready to have a meeting with the self advocate committee of Summer Street Industries. He let me take hold of the bag of tabs and I was astonished at how much they weighed.

Meet Archie Kontuk like I did. A man with a mission who has for 25 years being raising money to buy wheelchairs for those who need help in getting one. Others gathered round to help tell Archie's story and he himself handed me a brochure that he'd had made up to explain what he was doing. It turns out that Archie had been in a wheelchair for twelve years and through grit, determination and physio he strengthened his legs such that he could walk. But he never forgot how the wheelchair gave him the ability to move.

Years later he heard of a family with a little girl who had Spina Bifida and were in need of a wheelchair for her. Someone told him that you could raise money to buy wheelchairs by collecting pop can tabs. Archie was on his way. That little girl recieved the first of 11 chairs that Archie would help buy. Even now he collects tab and his fame has travelled far. He gets donations of pop tabs through the mail, some coming in sandwich bags, some in trash bags.

He's done the math, it takes 3032 pop tabs to make a pound and he gets 50 cents a pound. It then takes 3,032,000 pop tabs to get a wheelchair. Remember he's bought 11 (eleven) chairs.

As it turns out, Archie is having trouble with his legs again and it's possible that in the future he may have to use the pop can tabs to help him get his own chair. He says, "I'd get a good one."

If you want to save your pop tabs and send them to Archie, you can email him at or call him at 902-755-1745. You can join people from around North America who send Archie pop tabs.

One of the best things about travelling is that I get to meet cool people. Archie is cool. He has a passion for living and a passion that carries him through life on the wings of meaning. Talking about giving back. I'll always remember the weight of those pop tabs in that bag. But I'll really remember the grin on the face of Archie when I handed them back to him. He held them as if they were precious. As if he could see into the future and see the wheelchair he was buying for another person.

If that's 'disabled' we could all use a touch of it.


Anonymous said...

What is a pop tab? I'd love to do this, but have no idea what you're referring to!

Anonymous said...

a pop tab is the 'tab' you use to open a soda ... what we Canadians call 'pop'.

Anonymous said...

You say that a pound of pop tabs can be exchanged for about 50 cents. Doesn't it usually cost more than 50 cents to send a full pound of ANYthing through the mail? For people who are not able to find a way to give him pop tabs in person (i.e., people not within easy driving distance or public transportation of him), wouldn't it be more efficient for people to simply write a check in whatever amount and mail the check instead? A few dozen checks for $5 or $10 each could add up quickly.

I realize that people need wheelchairs even in rich countries like Canada and the US (or he wouldn't be collecting pop tabs in the first place). But in developing countries, the need is often even more desperate, or at least far more commonplace. At least one organization estimates that as many as 99 percent of people who need wheelchairs in some of the poorest countries don't have one. Some people with mobility impairments end up spending year after year stuck in one room of their home, cared for by their family but with little other stimulation, in part because of the lack of a wheelchair. (And also in part because of a whole host of other challenges including poverty and stigmatization that may cause some families to hide disabled family members either from shame or from fear of persecution. But the lack of wheelchairs doesn't help either.)

Some well-intended programs send western style wheelchairs to developing countries. And in some cases, this may help. But in other cases, these chairs may be very inappropriate to local physical conditions (unpaved, stony roads that may cause less sturdy chairs to fall apart in a matter of weeks or months) or inappropriate for local cultural norms (e.g., some western style chairs may go to women in cultures where everything, including cooking and dining, is done on the floor. These women may be no longer able to cook or eat with their family from the floor in their new western wheelchairs, so they end up cut off from family life and unable to contribute to running the household.). Some people also express concern that mass importation of free wheelchairs may actually inhibit efforts of local businesses that may attempt to build their own, cheaper wheelchairs from local materials at a profit.

There's an organization run by wheelchair riders that works with people with mobility impairments in developing countries to teach them how to design, build, and repair their own wheelchairs. This helps ensure that wheelchairs are affordable and are physically and culturally compatible (eg, able to endure temperature extremes and poor road conditions; perhaps built very narrow to accommodate narrow doorways; or built close to the floor to allow participation in family life, etc.)

If anyone is interested in learning more about it, you can check them out at


All 4 My Gals said...

Thanks Dave for the great inspiration of knowing that indeed one person can make a difference.

And Andrea you're right, and I have a feeling he would accept checks too. :)

I also really like the organization that you provided the link for. Thanks!