Sunday, July 3, 2011

The gift of mobility

It has been a long and challenging process getting this container of wheelchairs to Haiti. Months of fundraising, thousands upon thousands of dollars, countless emails refining details with the manufacturer, 45 days on the sea en route to Haiti, piles of paperwork and finally navigating the Haitian government’s “process” in port and customs. But it is so worth the effort.

The culminating event was no Hollywood production (as much as we would have liked one!). It was a small group of dirty, hot Americans and Haitians working together to distribute the new chairs to St. Vincent’s students, alumni and community members.

In our best effort to practice responsible wheelchair provision, all recipients were brought to the courtyard at the school. Unlike many organizations, we do not believe in a “one size fits all” philosophy.

Four different size wheelchairs were set up outside Fr. Sadoni’s office. The older children and young adults capable of making their own decisions were able to test drive multiple chairs to determine which one was the right fit and would best suit their individual needs. Ronald helped up select the proper size wheelchairs for the youngest children who were waiting for us in the dormitory.

Caravanning the empty wheelchairs from the storage space to St. Vincent's school

As soon as all sizes had been determined, the team set out to the storage area to gather the appropriate chairs. One of the recipients, Rony, followed us and waited patiently outside so he could be first. As soon as he selected the one he wanted, he hopped in and was spinning around in an instant, practically doing a dance with his new wheelchair! He immediately requested a pen so he could mark it with his name that he proudly wrote on the backrest. He even stayed to help Sonya affix the stickers to the chairs.

Rony trying out his new chair

Adding his John Hancock to the backrest

Proud and tall

Unlike the frantic rice and water distributions following last year’s earthquake, the process at St. Vincent’s was calm. All the chairs were set out in rows, delineated by size while recipients eyed the chair that they wanted.

One by one, each person climbed into his or her new seat, some independently while others required assistance. A few were tentative, moving gingerly and slowly, testing out the brakes and the maneuverability of the mountain bike tires that are so different than the smooth hospital wheels they are accustomed to. Others were quickly trying to figure out how they could do tricks, pop wheelies and fly around the courtyard!

Helping a student into her new wheelchair

Test drive!

While their reactions varied greatly, audible thank you’s in Kreyol, English, French and sign language abounded.

Much to our surprise, some of the older boys chose not to accept a new chair. The puzzled looks on our faces prompted Jean Robert to ask why. The young men said they couldn’t play basketball in them! One boy explained that the thick all terrain wheels (meant for traversing rough terrain) wouldn’t allow the fluid movement necessary for wheelchair basketball. While unexpected, we respected their decision and, of course, now we are researching sports wheelchairs to include in coming shipments.

Since school had ended at St. Vincent’s right after our departure earlier in June, many of the students were on summer break with their families and unavailable to receive their chairs that day. However, there are plenty for them all when school returns!

Spare wheelchair parts

We are happy to have provided these chairs to St. Vincent’s and look forward to returning on future visits to check how the chairs are serving the children. Because of your generous monetary donations we could also provide enough replacement parts and tools for months to come. Thank you again for your continued support of The Red Thread Promise.

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