Celebrations

Today was the final day of the basic wheelchair service training and the participants got to apply everything their learned on 6 people who were badly in need of a good wheelchair. Each of them had a condition that required a unique fitting: a young boy with TB who had a bone infection and needed his leg straight for a year; an older gentleman who had had a stroke and needed much support; two women with spinal cord injury, one of them with pressure sores, a man who had contracted polio and a double amputee.

It’s a complicated undertaking requiring good measurement, selecting the right chair and then making the adjustments. There is also the art of making the right seat cushion and foam wedges to relieve pressures that, if not corrected, create pressure sores; in warm and humid places such sores can easily get infected.

I have developed a new appreciation and much respect for these wheelchair folks. As I watch the trainers help their trainees focus on the safety and comfort of their clients I am quite moved. I suppose these people are lucky, to get this kind of service.

Just as the trainees are finishing their course I start to get to know them, hear their stories, especially of those who are wheelchair users themselves. From their personal experiences the plight of disabled people in the Philippines becomes very real – the hardship, the daily challenges, the misperceptions and misguided actions of the able-bodied.

One is a marathon wheelchair athlete whose dream it is to wheel himself to the Boston marathon finish line. To make that possible he has to be invited; and to be invited you have to be really good. He is working on that in regional marathons. We talked briefly about last year’s marathon – he watched it all, and will watch again this year, hopefully enjoying the accomplishments rather than the dramatic turn of events near the finish line.

The closing was touching. After several brief speeches, certificates, much applause and picture taking it was time to part. When everyone was gone the many supplies and wheelchairs were packed up: two sample chairs that will go to each trainee’s place of work, and the practicum supplies that will accompany the Philippina lead trainer and M who are off to Vietnam, for a similar course after we complete our events next week.

And then we piled into a bus with the exhausted but happy trainers and sat in traffic (only for an hour this time) to join a US/Canadian research team that is part of the larger USAID initiative to provide quality products and services mobility services to those who need them. They are staying in an even fancier hotel that was full of other celebrants. It is graduation in the Philippines and apparently families go out for birthday,judging from the singing and clapping that happened all around us.

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