Lauren's adventure in Ecuador

Sunday, February 11, 2007

The Wheelchair Foundation

I’ve been really busy with my Rotary club lately because their capstone project just kicked off yesterday. In conjunction with a Colorado Springs Rotary club and Hope Alliance, my Quito club arranged for the purchase and delivery of 576 new wheelchairs for adults and children in Ecuador. It has been a huge undertaking for them, as it involves three international organizations, a whole lot of people, and a lot of dinero. I have really been looking forward to this week-long project for many reasons. Firstly, the idea of seeing a matching grant project in action is exciting, and secondly, I lived in Colorado Springs with my sister this past summer, so I was especially excited to work with this North American team. The project officially began yesterday (Saturday) at the Quito city hall. It was an unorganized, chaotic frenzy. There were wheelchairs everywhere and throngs of people lined up to receive them. The city police couldn’t assemble the chairs fast enough. I thought it was kind of ironic that the wheelchairs were shiny red. It made me feel like Santa Claus way too much, and I don’t like the idea of pure charity without some kind of reciprocating effort on behalf of the receiver, so it made me sit and think for a while.

I’m not really sure why, but about five or ten minutes after I arrived I wanted to cry. It wasn’t because the people were horribly poor- quite the opposite actually; many came with their own, albeit used and abused wheelchairs. It also wasn’t because we lacked chairs to give people. We have extras in fact. It also wasn’t because I saw a transformation in the eyes of the people receiving chairs; like I said, many of them had had chairs before. I think I had selfishly wanted to see these life-changing moments with the poorest members of society. I suppose I just felt like we hadn’t found the people in Quito who needed the chairs most. I felt like I hadn’t tried hard enough. I knew that for every person who had the wherewithal and ability to receive the wheelchair in city hall, there were five more people who simply didn’t have the strength, assistance or money to get a chair. I realize that you can only help so many people, and that surely many more truly needy people will go without wheelchairs, but it left me to think. Giving out wheelchairs is easy. Finding the truly needy is the hard part. Seeing disabled children also stung a little more than usual. I think it’s because I saw how much their parents cared for them, and how they were almost afraid to place their kids in wheelchairs. They have been so used to carrying or tying their children to their backs that having the separation of this red object between their needy child and them was a little to much to handle for them. They always had one hand on the handle, one hand on the child. They wanted to enjoy the new apparatus, but I think they were scared of change and ironically felt like they had less control over the care of their child. I think the immensity of the project just overwhelmed me.

After city hall we went to La Comuna, a very poor sector of town. One of the Rotarians is helping to modernize and expand a grade school there, and this would be our second event to give chairs. There were considerably less people, and I preferred this experience because I could really see and meet the people of the community. We gave the majority of chairs to children, and many were so tiny that they didn’t even fit in the chair, but they will grow into them in the coming years. We saw a traditional folk dance put on by some girls of the community, and I enjoyed the interchange between the Rotarians and the community. It was a beautiful event. I noticed, however, that some of the designated chairs for the Comuna remained parked without a new owner. I asked, and apparently there were transportation problems and the people would be really late. Better late than never, because they had an entrance that I will never forget. I could hear the truck before I even saw it, and for some funny reason I knew it was a Ford. It came peeling around the corner, and all of the family members in the back swung around the corner with it. The man driving literally couldn’t put the car in park fast enough, and he sprinted out. The kids unloaded out of the back, and so did the ladies. I didn’t see anyone in need of a wheelchair, so I was a bit confused. But then I noticed that the kids were maneuvering a wooden plank, and seated like an aged princess was their beautiful grandma. My heart sank. They slowly carried her to the wheelchair, and her eyes were glued to it. I don’t think an earthquake could have broken her gaze. She slowly lowered herself into the chair. He calloused hands that had gripped the wooden plank for ages slowly passed over every inch of the armrests, the wheels, the seat, everything. She literally just sat in her own little paradise caressing the smoothness of her new chair. Her family circled her, a woman obviously adored and loved, and they were speechless.

So this has been the start of a great project. I am planning on traveling with the group during the next four days as we deliver 450 more chairs throughout Ecuador. I’m sure I’ll have a lot more to write about so check back soon.

(Me with Hans Hisgen, a member of Adopt a Village in Colorado Springs.)


Blogger Sarah Bollinger said...

Hey Lauren!
Very cool project. As an occupational therapist who has the privledge of working with people with disabilities everyday and can imagine what it would be like to not have the needed chairs, it makes it even a more heartwarming story. I wish I was there to help you distribute and fit the people for their wheelchairs so that they could be more comfortable and so that the chairs could "grow with them". But nonetheless, it is an awsome project. Once again "GO Rotary"!" and "Go Gators!"

I am really looking forward to my journey to Buenos Aires, which is just to begin March 7th. I can't wait to find and work on some service projects too!

9:25 PM  

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