Thursday, August 12, 2010

Tuesday, August 10, 2010: Casa Maria and Transiciones

Party decorations! Remember those chains we used to make as kids out of paper? We made so many of those today at Casa Maria with some of the residents! This one lady who calls me “Mi Reina” (my queen) was so intent on cutting strips of painted newspaper the exact same size and width… I’ve never seen anyone concentrate so hard! Some school kids came by and sang us songs then handed out cookies to everyone. We asked her if she wanted her cookies and she said “work first, then eat when you’re finished!” Yes ma’am! I love her!!!

After lunch, I went to McDonalds for the first time here in Antigua to meet with a group on a presentation for tomorrow. Boy, the US McDonalds are so crummy compared to this place! It’s like a palace with an open garden and a covered patio with cozy chairs and couches. Clean, quiet, upscale! Three words that people never say about Mc Donalds in the US!

Next, I headed to the Transiciones house for the first time, in a Tuktuk. Neither I, nor the driver knew where we were going, but somehow we managed to find the place. The Transiciones House is the house that guys who work at the wheelchair factory live in. It’s completely accessible to suite the men’s needs, many of whom are in wheelchairs.

I assisted Erika and Devva in recording a focus group they held with the men who are from Transiciones. We had 10 men and our goal was to figure out what it’s like for them to live in Guatemala with some sort of disability, how they felt about it, if they knew what their rights were, and if they see things changing for them in the future. From what I heard, it seems like there are many laws here but no one enforces them, and there’s never funding for mandates that are imposed. People in Antigua are more considerate of people living with disabilities because of Transiciones’ presence in the community. However, most towns outside of Guatemala aren’t as open-minded and the towns are incredibly inaccessible. I was surprised to hear many of the men say that they consider Antigua to be an easy place to maneuver in a wheelchair. Cobblestone streets, foot high curbs, narrow sidewalks… nothing about this place is easy! It makes you wonder what “hard to maneuver” must be like!

One story worth hearing though- I met one of the founders of Transiciones today.  In short, they make wheelchairs out of bike parts and stainless steel so that the chairs last longer and can be fixed at any bike shop in the country. All of the employees have a disability and they learn the trade, with the goal to move on and start a new place or work with the skills they have learned. The man I met is 27, and contracted polio at the age of 2. He uses a wheelchair, but he is able to walk for short distances. He started Transiciones with 3 other guys at the age of 10! I was astonished when he told me this… The things this organization does is beyond incredible. I can’t imagine how a group of 10 to 13 year olds could come up with and continue to run a place like this, with a mission of helping people the way that it does.