“This is Everything:” Medical Donations on November 17th
Editors Note: This article was written by Morgan Harden, a recent graduate of Kenyon College. She has degrees in Spanish Literature and English, with a creative writing emphasis, which she uses to write, translate, and share stories. Drawn to its story and collaborative model, she began volunteering remotely for Mano a Mano after her graduation. This work eventually led her all the way to the organization’s epicenter in Cochabamba. After her time volunteering in Bolivia, Morgan will be headed to Argentina to begin her Fulbright English Teaching Assistant Fellowship.
Morgan wrote about four of the recent recipients of medical supplies below:
Gabriela’s New Wheelchair
“Ciao,” Gabriela waved excitedly to me, as her dad lowered her new wheelchair towards the waiting car. This morning, eight families from around Cochabamba met at the Center for Ecological Agriculture (CEA) to collect medical donations. Gabriela and her parents was just one of the families who arrived. All piled into her father’s taxi, Gabriela and her parents traveled nearly an hour from Tiquipaya to get her first wheelchair.
Gabriela was born with meningocele, or a protrusion of membranes that cover the spine and portions of the spinal cord, due to a bone defect in the vertebrae. Because of this, Gabriela has never been able to move her feet and often suffers from weakness and fractures in her legs. Though the blockage was removed in surgery, alleviating some of her symptoms with physical therapy, Gabriela will likely never gain full function of her feet.
However, you never would’ve known it, looking at the little girl. She sat contended on her mother’s lap all morning, playing with the brightly colored purse around her neck and her favorite toy, a plastic insect. As she approaches her third birthday, Gabriela needs a wheelchair to give her more mobility to move around (and make trouble), like other kids. When she was fit with her wheelchair, the change was almost instantaneous.
As her parents bent over the donation paperwork, Gabriela sailed around the room. Though her hands barely reached the wheels, she pushed herself (with the plastic bug along for the ride) all about the room, running herself into boxes of supplies and giggling at the soft collision. Gabriela smiled up at her parents, who could only turn to Juan, the donation coordinator at Mano a Mano, saying “this is going to change her life so much. Thank you.” All of us stood for a moment, looking at Gabriela, who was still running circles around us. Needless to say, she didn’t waste any time exploring her new capacity for mobility or mischief.
“Go to Mano a Mano, my friends told me. They’ll help you get what you need,” another woman answered, when I asked her how she’d found out about Mano a Mano. The woman, who chose to remain unnamed, came to the CEA, needing a new wheelchair. At fifteen, she had a terrible accident, which damaged her spinal cord, leaving her with no mobility in her feet. She’s been in a wheelchair ever since.
Taking a break from the flurry of action, I sat down next to her for a moment to talk. When I asked her how long she’d had her previous wheelchair, she answered, “I can’t even remember, but it feels like it’s been an eternity.” And her wheelchair betrayed the wear: the seat was threatening to cave in, the footrests rusted, and the left wheel wobbling. Unwilling to let her accident limit her, she continued to go out every day to sell wares in the streets, even as her wheelchair began falling apart underneath her.
It was like a scene from Cinderella, as she tried out different wheelchairs. It took a couple of tries to find one that would support her feet and give her maximum mobility. However, once we found the right chair, if was obvious to everyone working. It was a perfect fit, if you will. Her feet slid easily into the rests, as she took a seat. She even seemed to sit up straighter.
She zipped away from us in her new chair, only to turn back and return just as quickly, with a gleaming smile. Jaime, one of Mano a Mano’s regular volunteers, turned to me and said, “looks like she’s got a new car!” Seating in the front seat of a taxi, as her husband loaded her new wheelchair into the trunk, she motioned me towards the window. Grasping my hands between hers, she whispered, “It’s perfect, just perfect. I don’t even know how to thank you.”
“It was nothing really…” I began to say, a little overwhelmed by the rush of gratitude, aimed exclusively in my direction.
She didn’t even let me finish the sentence, cutting me off with another tug of my hands, “no, really, thank you. This is everything.”
Braces for Efraín
Placing one of his new braces out in front of him, Efraín took a few cautious steps. Within a few seconds, he was already moving from person to person, shaking hands vigorously. He wore an infectious smile, shining to match the gleam of his braces. As Efraín sat down to the paperwork, his wife leaned towards me. “He’s not quite as young as he looks,” she confessed, with a laugh. “Trust me, it’s been a long road.”
When he was twenty-six, Efraín was caught in a transportation accident and suffered damage to his spinal cord. The accident left him completely bedridden, unable to perform even the most basic tasks. However, Efraín never gave up hope on his rehabilitation. After two years in bed, he made enough progress with physical therapy to use a wheelchair. He was in the wheelchair for years, still training with the hopes of walking again. With eight more years of work, Efraín regained enough mobility to walk with the help of braces. Although Efraín still has 48% difficulty, meaning nearly half of his body has mobility issues, he is determined to continue making gains. His new braces, which replaced a pair with nearly a decade of wear, will certainly support this continued progress.
Although it was the first time Efraín received a donation from Mano a Mano, it wasn’t his first experience with the organization. As a representative of the federation of disabled people, Efraín encounters Mano a Mano in his work regularly. To that end, he commented, “it’s so important we have Mano a Mano’s support. It makes all the difference, not just for me, but for lots of people.”
After a moment of contemplation and a renewed round of thanks, he added, “We’re trying to show our abilities, not lean on our disabilities.”
Crutches for don Guillermo
On Friday, don Guillermo was another recipient of a pair of crutches after an accident:
We Have Shipped 205,675 Pounds of Supplies in 2017
This year, with the help of many dedicated people, we have shipped 205,675 pounds of donated medical supplies from Minnesota to Bolivia, where we distribute them to organizations and people in need, like Gabriela, Efrain, and Guillermo.