When the need for wheelchairs in a poverty stricken area of Mexico was raised earlier this year, Rotary members in Sylvan Lake and across Central Alberta were quick to answer the call.
Now the largest contingent ever of Rotarians, their family and friends are planning a trip to Huatulco to deliver about 400 wheelchairs in February. At least 30 people are going, said Bonnie Ganske during an interview last week.
She and husband Dale are residents of Sylvan Lake half the year and Huatulco the other half of the year. They were also on the first Rotary wheelchair delivery trip to Huatulco almost ten years ago.
All those participating pay their own expenses to get to Huatulco and most will be hosted in home stays with local families or snowbirds from the United States and Canada who winter in the southern climate. The trip is scheduled for Feb. 11-25 with some people participating for one week and others spending two weeks. While there they’ll get to experience a bit of the local culture while assisting in wheelchair deliveries.
Ganske explained the DIF (the equivalent of Canada’s family support service agencies) approached the Rotary Club of the Bays of Huatulco and said there was a need to access wheelchairs, asking if the local club could reach out to make it possible.
“Initially we set out to raise funds for half a container load of wheelchairs, 140 of them, but that was quickly met,” said Ganske. Then they’d raised enough money, $42,000, for a full container load of 280 and learned they were all needed by the social service agencies they were working with in Mexico. So they raised the goal once again to purchase another half container load and have nearly accomplished that for a total of approximately 400 wheelchairs!
The funding is not just from Rotary, said Ganske. It’s also from businesses, individuals and fundraising activities. The cost of an individual chair is $150 and people still wishing to may also donate one in their name or in memory of a loved one. “Donations are still invited and tax receipts are available,” she said.
A unique fundraising activity that Ganske created is the sale of lightweight, foldable frisbees that double as Huatulco air conditioners (a hand held and operated fan). The logo on the frisbees was developed by Brenda Kolasa, a graphic designer and member of the Red Deer East Rotary Club.
At $2 each their purpose is two-fold, she explained. They make great gifts for kids, stocking stuffers or to pack in campaigns such as Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes.
The frisbees are available locally at Canadian Tire, Best Body Fitness and Lakeview Computers as well as from other Rotary members. They’ve been sold by members at CentreFest in Red Deer and Shake The Lake in Sylvan.
The other opportunity is for people to purchase the Frisbees and donate them back to Rotarians who are going to Mexico so they may be distributed to youngsters who invariably crowd around during wheelchair deliveries in various villages. This time the area receiving the wheelchairs extends out from Huatulco in about a 100 kilometre radius through rural Oaxaca state.
The deliveries, which the Rotary members are involved with, take place in a central location in a community and become a bit of a celebration, said Ganske. In some locations they’ve been greeted by local dignitaries, bands and singers.
When the volunteers get to a community they do a simple assembly of the wheelchairs, give instructions on their use, care and how recipients can adjust them to their needs, then take a picture of each recipient in their chair with a numbered certificate. The recipients have been screened by DIF, the Red Cross or other disabled persons organizations, said Ganske. ”We do all the things we can to ensure people needing wheelchairs receive them.”
The DIF helps with transportation, customs, storage, transportation of the delivery team, and set up of sites for delivery.
The Rotary Clubs involved are working with the Canadian Wheelchair Foundation which subsidizes all shipping costs and incidentals for the equipment which is manufactured in China.
The Rotary Club in Huatulco, which numbers about 18 members, is the host club for the project and they’ll assist with deliveries and other activities for their visitors.
The group going to Mexico “will find it a life changing experience,” said Ganske. “It enriches people’s lives, not just the recipients.”
She remembers one man riding to a wheelchair delivery with his wife in the basket of his bicycle because she was an amputee. “They were so happy, so grateful, talked about how this would change her life, make it possible for her to get around their home, help their children. If they thanked us once, they thanked us 100 times and cried and cried. It’s so life changing.”
Ganske said by giving these people wheels to move around they can move about not just on the dirt floors of their houses but get out into the sunshine.
Many of the people who received wheelchairs during past trips have been brought in on the backs of other family members or in the arms of parents.
Besides Huatulco, Sylvan Lake Rotary members have been involved in past wheelchair deliveries in the Philippines, Belize and South Africa.
Among those from Sylvan Lake planning to join the delivery team are Scott and Hilary McDermott, Nadine Coyne, Jack and Andrea Van Delden, Trevor and Hanna Sigfusson, Paul and Matthew Ventura, Mark and Kendra Custance and Bonnie and Dale Ganske.
Other Rotary Clubs involved include Red Deer East, Rocky Mountain House, Lacombe Daybreak, Red Deer Centennial, Okotoks, High River and as far away as Northbrook, Illinois.
For more information about the wheelchair project contact firstname.lastname@example.org.