By Peg Ainsley
Unbelievable need. Proud preparation. Every recipient neatly dressed, clean and ready to accept their gift. Most with at least one family member. Patiently waiting their turn. Accepting with grace – some with open joy, others reserved – sometimes nervous, sometimes fearful, curious, shy. Grateful.
A tear rolls down the cheek of Francisca Martinez. She is blind and with the interpretive help of a member of the Huatulco Rotary Club, we have introduced ourselves and I have “shown” her the bandera of Canada – our flag. I pin it on her and show her again where it is on her sweater. We exchange ages and hold hands. She is only five years my senior but seems older. She has not had my pampered life. Still, on this day she has freshly done grey pigtails. I tell her congratulations in her own language – a word I learned yesterday. Before this she walked one short, painful step at a time with a wooden cane. She is happy, she is grateful, and she is moved by this gift.
Another lady, 80 years old, has travelled by bus four hours to get here. She has been having increasing difficulty walking and the chair will help her remain living independently. Her daughter lives in Mexico City and she prefers to be in her home town of St. Baltizar in the province of Loxicha.
One man whose wife has passed away has four children. All but the eldest receive a chair today. He can now see his children, all in their twenties, gain some independence and he is suddenly free from physically carrying them. Here, a child born with a defect, there a foot lost to diabetes, all manner of reasons, from 1 year old to 102.
Rotary has been running this project annually in different parts of the world for 10 years. This year marks the largest number of Rotarian volunteers with 28 from Alberta including Red Deer, Sylvan Lake and the Okotoks Rotary Clubs, one from Ontario and one from Chicago, Illinois. Whether assembling wheelchairs, transferring recipients or working registration, all play a part in making it happen. And they receive the gifts. Some people give a token – a bracelet, and one young man has created a beautiful sailboat out of nature’s craft shop. The boat goes to Bonnie Ganske for she and her husband Dale to enjoy for years to come.
Ganske is a Sylvan Lake/Huatulco Rotarian, and as project leader has worked towards these delivery days for 15 months. And it hasn’t been without its challenges. Establishing the cooperation required between various levels of Government , the Canadian Wheelchair Foundation, and the shipping agents as well as Customs and Border personnel in two countries is no small task. In fact, to the last day before deliveries were to begin, the wheelchairs were held at the border creating drama and tension for organizers. There could have been 30+ volunteers without wheelchairs to deliver.
In the end, there are 500 wheelchairs available for distribution to those who need them. Without the Rotary project these people, these hospitals, these children may not be able to enjoy their new freedom