Thursday, June 30, 2011

Back in Haiti again

Father Sadoni and Sonya with one of each size
of The Red Thread's All Terrain wheelchairs

If it seems like we just left Haiti and are back again, you are absolutely right. Four days after we returned to the states following our trip in early June, our shipment of wheelchairs finally released from customs and Haiti's international port. So what could we do other than organize another trip back to one of our favorite countries? So that's what we did.

Two team members, Steve and Sonya, arrived yesterday afternoon. After Sonya gave Steve a quick lesson in "Haiti 101", they spent the night at the hotel only to wake up, ready for work.

A mountain of cardboard awaited the two when they arrived at St. Vincent’s old site this morning. Boxes upon boxes, each containing a single All Terrain wheelchair, took up most of the space in the hot dusty room.

Boxes and boxes of wheelchairs

The team of workers tasked with the assembly was: 

  • Steve, who facilitated the manufacture of our All Terrain wheelchair, Rotarian (District 6110; district and international levels), and MSNI ambassador
  • Sonya, The Red Thread Promise Vice President
  • Ronald, St. Vincent’s Supervisor
  • Beloge, a journeyman brace shop worker
  • Fedelin, a brace shop apprentice
We tugged on gloves and wrestled with facemasks and set to work on un-boxing and putting together the chairs, teaching the brace shop workers in the process. They were both very adept and helpful with a great sense of humor.

Four different size wheelchairs were included in the shipment so we set out to find one of each. In order to complete this seemingly simple task, we organized the shipment, creating “zones” for each of the four sizes. Due to spatial constraints, the casual observer might have thought that we were trying to work a life-sized Rubik’s Cube, moving one box here, another box there, only to move the first box again. But in the end, we were successful, sweaty and proud of the newly organized space.

Steve (foreground) and the brace shop workers organizing the shipment

First on the assembly line was a 12” chair, one for a kindergarten-sized child or smaller—so tiny, one might almost label it “cute” if indeed a wheelchair can be called cute.

Steve and the brace shop workers examined every facet of the chair for damage during shipping. They tightened the front casters, checked to make sure the wheels were “true” (straight), mounted the seat cushion and gave the entire wheelchair a thorough inspection before it received a “thumbs up”. The final action was to apply one of our stickers, honoring the those who donated toward the shipment.

Tightening the casters on the first wheelchair

Examining every detail

The finishing touch!

The first completed wheelchair

The team then repeated this process for every chair that was assembled, over and over. It was like a well-oiled machine. Notes were made on ones that incurred slight damage in shipping and we jotted down ideas for improving the packing method. But, wow, was it fantastic to see all those red chairs!

Also put together were two of the three specialty chairs that were included in the shipment. These are completely different styles of wheelchairs for people with unique disabilities. One has the ability to recline completely, with a detachable headrest extension for someone needing to sleep in the chair while one of the others is like a tricycle, with three wheels. We felt that the best way for St. Vincent’s to determine if they could use these types of wheelchairs was to provide one of each for them to test.

One of the specialty wheelchairs

The chair fully reclined

Following the completion of the assembly for the day, we each selected a wheelchair to take to St. Vincent’s school and dormitory location. What a spectacle we must have been, pushing bright red, empty wheelchairs down the rubble-strewn road! People were staring at us from all directions, but we were all smiles.

Tomorrow we will distribute the chairs to all St. Vincent’s children and assemble more. We will also be teaching the brace shop workers how to fix the chairs, using the boxes full of repair and replacement parts provided. All in a day’s work in Haiti.

From left to right: 12" and 14" kid-size chairs;
16" and 18" adult-size wheelchairs

1 comment:

Britney said...

Yay! I'm excited you finally get to distribute the chairs. Can't wait to see people sitting in them and using them. what a blessing!