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  • Rex Shahriari

    Kaplan University Psychology Professor Helps Give the Gift of Mobility to the Disabled in Africa 

    Rex Shahriari, EdD, is an adjunct graduate psychology professor in Kaplan University’s College of Social and Behavioral Sciences programs. He is currently teaching Foundations of Professional Psychology as well as Comprehensive Exam.

    About a year ago, Rex and his wife were watching the local news and saw a segment about an organization called PET (Personal Energy Transportation) International (www.petinternational.org). (You can watch the segment, which also aired nationally on the CBS Evening News, at http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-18563_162-57561034/retirees-pet-project-gives-lifeline-to-disabled/.)

    PET began nearly 20 years ago when a missionary in Africa began to communicate the need for three-wheeled, hand-cranked wheelchairs for victims of polio and landmines. The missionary was connected with a fellow missionary who also was a product designer, and the process of building a prototype began.

    “PET’s founder missionary saw a need, tried to fill it, and continues to work to help meet the need,” Rex said.

    PETs essentially help the disabled in developing countries become mobile. People who cannot walk can use their PET to move around. The PET has all-terrain tires—handy where there are no good roads—and a hand crank that functions like pedals on a bicycle since most PET users do not have the use of their legs. There also is an area in the back that can be used as a “trunk” to move water or produce and goods—or to help transport children. The PETs are all constructed using donated materials with volunteers performing the assembly.

    To date, nearly 38,000 PETs have been distributed in 100 countries to both children and adults. The organization has no overhead and nobody is paid. Every single dollar and donation goes toward the PET, helping the less fortunate become mobile, productive members of their society.

    Rex had recently retired after his successful 40-year career as a school and clinical psychologist and highly esteemed university professor. In addition to teaching classes at Kaplan University, Rex and his wife wanted to give back to the community. “My wife called the organization and they found a spot for us right away,” he said. “My wife and I do most of the painting of the PETs!”

    “We love performing the hands-on work,” he said. “And PET is an amazing organization. We call it an enabling enterprise. We enable people to achieve what they’re capable of. There are so many success stories—of people who were outcasts, crawling in the woods because they had no means of ambulation. PETs help so many people, including earthquake victims in Haiti, land mine survivors, and children with congenital birth defects.”

    The team of volunteers in the Leighton, Iowa, PET chapter ranges from farmers to bank CEOs, mostly like-minded retirees like Rex.

    “Volunteering and helping others provides me with a true sense of purpose,” Rex said. “I’ve seen videos of the people we are helping and it is amazing to see the lives we are changing. It is so rewarding to be a part of the PET team!”

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