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Wheelchairs bring freedom to Mexico’s impoverished

A man who lost both legs is seated in the wheelchair given to him during a mission trip to Mexico in October.
A man who lost both legs is seated in the wheelchair given to him during a mission trip to Mexico in October. Shigley Photography

A 13-year-old boy, severely brain-damaged since birth, whose mother was exhausted from having to carry him anywhere they went.

An older woman who used to minister to children, but no longer can walk and has been bed-bound.

A farmer-rancher, 91, who can walk short distances with great difficulty, leaving him unable to get around much of his property.

Those are among the people helped during a recent five-day mission to Mexico to distribute wheelchairs to the impoverished. A Modesto couple, Rick and Diane Carson, led the eight-person mission team, whose members raised funds to buy the chairs, paid their own way on the trip, assembled the chairs and adjusted them case by case to the recipients.

The Carsons made a similar trip in 2008 to the Philippines. They were among a group of 15 people, mostly from their church, Big Valley Grace. That mission was initiated by Michelle Dalrymple, then a teenager, who was left paralyzed in a bizarre gunshot incident in 2006 at a Modesto beauty college.

Since becoming Modesto franchisees of Right at Home, a company that provides in-home care to elderly and disabled people, the Carsons thought a second trip would be a way to take their focus off themselves and “give back.” They reached out to Right at Home corporate leaders to see if other employees or franchisees would be interested in joining them on the mission. A team of eight – the others were from the Omaha area, Washington, D.C., and Southern California – was assembled and made the trip Oct. 12-16.

Free Wheelchair Mission is a humanitarian, faith-based, nonprofit organization that provides wheelchairs at no cost to people with disabilities living in developing nations.

Working with the nonprofit organizations Free Wheelchair Mission and Operation Blessing International, the team did local and corporate-level fundraising to buy 150 wheelchairs and paid their own way to Mexico City. The team members also took such small gifts as soccer balls and candy to the children they met in the five rural communities to which they drove.

Of the wheelchair recipients, some were children, a lot were older people, a few had lost one or both of their legs. “Most were people who were lucky to be able to get there, and at huge expense to them to make the trip,” Diane Carson said. “The first chair went to a little old lady. She was lying in her bed.” The woman used to minister to children but had to quit as her health declined, Carson said. She was excited that having the chair would allow her to resume her ministry.

“We had one little guy, a farmer retired about 25 years. … He could walk just a little, and he was so excited” to receive a chair, Carson said. He mentioned that his wife, who could not make the trip, also needed a wheelchair, but he thought he could get only one.

The team quickly got a chair for her and presented it to the farmer, Fidel. Mission team member John LaChapelle wrote up the account: “Fidel couldn’t believe it. His daughter-in-law was crying, as were a lot of us, happy tears. I looked Fidel in the eye and saw a man who was beside himself with joy – he was going home with his chair, that she was going to be so happy for him to have, and, now, he gets to roll through the door with a chair for her! For me, personally, that was one of the most extraordinary things to have witnessed.”

One of the largest charities in America, Operation Blessing provides relief in 37 countries through core programs such as disaster relief, health and medical care, hunger relief, vulnerable children and orphan care, safe water and community development.

The wheelchairs distributed are made for the sometimes rough terrain of the recipients’ rural areas. Instead of solid rubber tires, they have inflatable bicycle tires and come with a repair kit and pump. The bike tires make it easier for the users to get around, the Carsons said, and are easier to obtain and replace when they wear out.

The couple said the mission was a touching, rewarding experience. “People we would consider to be living in poverty were very content with their lives,” Rick Carson said, and they were deeply grateful for the difference in their lives that having a wheelchair will make.

Brooke Shigley, a Right at Home employee and photographer in Nebraska who captured the mission trip, thought of the mother of the 13-year-old boy, José. “Just being in the caregiving industry, knowing how much time and effort it takes – the families were so happy,” Shigley said. “It took a lot of the burden and extra work off them. ... Seeing that relief on people’s faces was the best part.”

Most of the recipients had a handful of family members present, so while there might be 10 to 20 people receiving wheelchairs in a community, there were about 100 people there, Shigley said. “That was the most humbling part, because on my first mission trip, I worked with orphans and there wasn’t that support there.

“And the gratitude each recipient showed – at each delivery, they invited us for a home-cooked meal. We went to the community center, where we were provided a meal a lot of the women made together. In an obviously very poor home, they had several bags of pumpkin seeds and offered one to each of us. That kind of gratitude was amazing.”

Deke Farrow: 209-578-2327

To learn more

▪ Free Wheelchair Mission: www.freewheelchairmission.org

▪ Operation Blessing International: www.ob.org

▪ Right at Home: www.rightathome.net

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