By Jeanne Jacoby Smith
On Sunday evening our group from PET-Kansas left Santa Lucia with plans to deliver Personal Energy Transportation wheelchairs, or PETs, in Siguetepeque. Our truck and suburban with ten travelers from Kansas caravanned across the country on roads that curved as sharp to the left and right as they did up and down the mountains. Hours later we arrived at the small mountain village of Siguetepeque. That night we set up shop in a whitewashed church and assembled PETs for the morning.
When we arrived at the distribution center at the Iglesia de Cristo that Monday, the first person to greet us was a woman with one leg. She had heard we were coming and returned to thank us for the PET she received from PET-Kansas last year. A homeless woman, she lived with her three-year-old daughter, little Rosa, in a cardboard box at the end of a lane on the edge of town.
Within the hour the church was crowded. Individuals and families with every imaginable infirmity came to us. I wished so much that we would have had a health care worker in our group to identify the recipients’ physical conditions.
Most recipients tried both types of PETs for size and function. Then we altered their PETs for safety and comfort. Eighty-one year old Sebastian Klasquez lost his legs to a circulatory infection. Maria Eugenio Gomez, 50, suffered from gangrene and diabetes. When she was identified as needing a PET some weeks before, her family hired a car to drive her three hours to our distribution center, only to learn that no PET was available. Because she wasn’t there early in the morning, her PET had been given to another. For every person identified to receive a PET that day, it seemed that seven or eight others not on the list showed up to claim one. The need appeared great in this rural hamlet of Honduras. Frustrations increased to the point that we finally halted the operation, cleared out the church, and reorganized the distribution process.
Hector, a pastor with a love for his people, focused our attention on why we were there. He implored the people for their cooperation so that we could continue the distribution in a more orderly fashion.
Across the room I noticed a woman weeping. The Push PETs were gone; they were the only type of PET wheelchair that could meet her needs. Ashley decided to make the three-hour round trip to Tegucigalpa to secure another load of PETs from storage. Because the need was so great, another load of PETs would enable us to outfit the latecomers who were not identified earlier. Two of our teens accompanied Ashley to give him a hand.
Another recipient, an older woman wept for joy when we lifted her into her PET. We laughed when Kirby made the pronouncement: “She won’t make it go up the mountain, but she can do it!”
In another area of the room I noticed Theo and Kirby helping a man prop his paralyzed leg on the ledge of his PET. They sawed a slot from the ledge to accommodate him. Another young fellow, Juan Noël Aguilas, 18, was shy and content. Juan had no legs at all. He patiently waited for several hours in hopes that a PET might become available. When the time arrived, we fitted him with a bright red PET to celebrate the mood of the moment. For Juan, this day was “Christ-mass.”
About mid-afternoon I slipped out of the church for a break. Siguetepeque had dusty streets lined with adobe homes in an array of pastel colors. Occasional iron grates graced their windows and doors. I sensed these a happy people overall, with strong and supportive families. Meandering down the street I discovered a school where students were empowered through learning … something going right in the midst of so many things gone wrong. Sounds of happy school children rose above the concrete wall. I heard a chorus of young voices parroting lessons after their teacher. I wondered if little Rosa could go to school here without the stigma of living in a cardboard box by the side of the road with a PET for a car for her and her Mother.
Turning another direction, I noticed scattered TV aerials over single story adobe houses. A woman using an umbrella to shield her from the sun sauntered down the street wearing a t-shirt that said, in English, “Stand up for PEACE.”
In this town, I thought, standing up for Peace just might be possible … unless your name was … Little Rosa.
Title: “For Me, Christmas Came in April This Year” by Jeanne Jacoby Smith, McPherson, KS. Previously published in The McPherson Sentinel, McPherson, KS, Dec. 2009