Day 6: – Back to Tegucigalpa …
We were tired, all of us, this last day. I contemplated our journey of one long week. We had zigzagged the country from South to North in Honduras’s high sierras, driving from the Pacific to the Caribbean. We had a long day ahead, retracing our steps from La Cieba to Tegucigalpa for the flight back home. During this momentous week, I contemplated the import of what we had accomplished. As of this morning, we dispensed more than 200 PET-Kansas wheelchairs in all of six days. Fortunately, a few were remaining.
The morning was spent fitting PETs to recipients in LaCieba. Of special significance was a special education facilitator who drove her needy students to us. She brought Froilan Alberto Ortega who got an electric shock that resulted in amputation of both of his legs. Now 24, he was studying to become an accountant. Also lingering in my memory is Xavior Montenegro who, when he received his PET, became so excited that he didn’t know what to do with the peanut butter sandwiches he held in his hands. He wanted to drive the PET but didn’t want to part with his dinner.
Miguel Angel Ortega, now 26, gave me a double “thumbs up” as he pedaled away on his PET. Already he had decaled a message on the cargo: “Dios se propicio a mi, picador!” (“God look favorably upon me, a sinner.”) His legs were paralyzed due to a contaminated injection he received at the age of two.
By noon our distribution was finished, and we fulfilled our promise to the students to visit the Caribbean Sea. As gently as the Pacific greeted our travelers six nights before, in broad daylight the chaotic Caribbean, to our travelers’ delight, aggressively chased them to and fro in the waves to the shore.
I pondered the lives of the PET recipients, their lifestyles and the heartaches of all we had seen. More than once I wondered how many of them lived, in their homes, that is. The opportunity presented itself serendipitously as our truck and suburban drove south on the major cross-country highway to Tegucigalpa. No more than an hour into our journey, someone in the pickup behind us spotted a middle-aged man with a pant leg folded under his trunk. The pickup blew its horn, and our vehicle jerked to the side of the road behind it. Within minutes our guys ripped open a carton and bolted together a PET. Cruz Perez, the man, sat in his new PET dumbfounded, not knowing what to make of everything. Manna from heaven had come to his house that day.
While our travelers finished assembling his PET, an attendant in the next door shop noted the unexpected commotion. When she saw what was happening, she asked us to follow her. We drove down the road together and trailed her vehicle into a rugged village with 40 or 50 shanties. Bumping through potholes on the rough dirt road, some our crew jumped from the suburban to finish the trek on foot while our truck with the PETs pulled gingerly ahead to get closer to the shanty.
Several small children (How blessed they were with the age of innocence!) pranced alongside these odd-looking foreigners who traipsed the rest of the way on foot.
The woman who lived there was in the yard feeding chickens. Her husband sat outside, propped against a wall of the house in a broken down wheelchair that could no longer function. Our men pitched in and began opening a box. Within minutes neighborhood children arrived. Soon they were squealing. Balls, books, cuddly stuffed animals, and “new” used clothing – what a heyday they had!
With the children diverted, the real gift was revealed when we pulled out parts of the PET and our crew set to work assembling them. As the PET took shape, it became evident that a miracle was in progress. “Papa can go! Papa can drive!” was the cry of the children that day.
Before we left, the man implored Geovanny to go inside the house with him. Later, Geovanny cringed as he told what he saw. “It was the worst wound I ever saw in my life,” he reported with sensitive compassion. “The man has a hole in his leg that goes so deep the bone is visible to the human eye. He needs medical help desperately, but they have no way to get it.”
We couldn’t save the world, nor did we expect to in a few short days. But we helped provide many with a quality life that they didn’t have yesterday. Perhaps not every PET will see its full potential with its new owner, but if it frees up a mother or other caregiver and gives them a life, the PET will have accomplished its humble mission. PETs are for families, too.
Before we finished with shanty number one, another family came running. Their grandpa, also, needed a PET. We traipsed over the ruts to the house. There sat an old man in the yard, if, indeed, one could call it a yard. Given our goal of Tegucigalpa by dark, and with time such a precious commodity, the guys hurriedly assembled another PET. Before we pulled out of the ruts of the village, yet another family arrived to request a PET. This time we drove to a brick bungalow of much nicer construction at the end of the lane by the road. The young man in question, relegated to the confines of his house because of his non-functional legs, to his utter surprise, suddenly discovered himself with a set of new wheels – and freedom. Again, we set out for Teguc.
The capstone event of the day was still to come. It happened serendipitously. Our suburban was in the lead when the truck in the rear began blaring its horn with our students pointing out the window. To our surprise, there was a man peddling alongside the road on a PET given by PET-Kansas in a previous delivery, perhaps last year, or the year before that. The paint was well worn, but the man was peddling full speed, his cargo laden with vegetables and fruits in the rear. We wanted to pull over but traffic prohibited it. We glared out the windows in wonder, waving and shouting.
As Kirby reminded us a few days ago, “This was what PET-Kansas was all about.” Self-sufficiency and dignity for people in the developing world. That anonymous man put an exclamation mark at the end of a wondrous week!
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