I did something of my time last Friday. I went out and met (again) the community I wanted to give some of the wheelchairs I sourced from an organization in Australia and I went to visit Gab and had someone with me to check him and his wheelchair two years after we gave it to him.
Gab is 8 years old last Thursday. I met him in 2014 together with his mom when I joined the local disabled people’s organization in my city. I offered my skills to help but my work does not allow me to fully commit to it. His mom and I continue to communicate. She contacts me when she has questions about Gabs condition and for some other pieces of advice.
He was born with cerebral palsy. He has spasticity on all of his extremities and he has difficulty to communicate. All his 8 years have been supported by therapy whenever money and professionals are available but he still cannot walk but he loves to be around people. So a wheelchair would be very good to have for him to be mobile and social and wheelchair he got two years ago!
When he was 6-years old, I managed to get ten wheelchairs I was hoping to give to children like Gab. At that age, his parents are already complaining that it’s becoming difficult to move him around and the DIY chairs they built him doesn’t offer much support.
He is lucky because his family makes time for him, you can feel a happy family around him when you visit, they seek help and save up for some therapy, while other children have no opportunity to access health and rehabilitation services, no caregivers and often no knowledge of their human rights. I saw many with deformities that cannot be improved anymore, let alone sit in the chair. Some, there’s hope if parents can be given the training on how to manage their child’s conditions if they cannot afford therapy and transport.
What has changed?
When I met Gab, he was smaller. My colleague who made most of the technical adjustment had to adjust his seat depth and more to accommodate his long legs. I also noticed how talkative he has become, although he was talkative then, this time I can understand them more and being able to carry more conversation with the small vocabulary he has. But he also has a shorter temper, which I think was because of the weather (summer temperature reached 35C that day) and being cooped in the house instead of going to the park.
Gab even has his own facebook page!
He follows instructions better. When we asked him to sit straight and put his neck straight, he can do it. He has better trunk control, I guess the time he can have the straight posture would determine his progress together with other activities. With the table attached to the chair, he interacts more with the people around the house, increasing his ability to use his hands. Feeding too has improved, and I noticed no drooling compared to the first times I met him. He will need continuous therapy, but I am happy with what I saw.
I even saw photos of him playing badminton with his siblings and had gone swimming with the family this summer.
What’s next for Gab and for the remaining chairs?
Experts say he needs to be re-evaluated together with his wheelchair. A 3-wheel type chairs that have hip, trunk and head control (depending on the design). The Wheelchair For Kids, Inc. produces these type of wheelchair. The organization is made up of a group of retired volunteer members of the Perth metropolitan community in Western Australia, and they donate these type of chair all over the world.
I don’t exactly remember how I got to know WFK, but I remember it was during the time I was in East Timor. Later, when I returned home, I contacted WFK, Inc. and inquired whether they have links with a local organization here in the Philippines where I could get access to their wheelchairs and distribute to the children in San Pedro City.
No, they don’t have specific local partners in the Philippines, but they have better links – the RSL Angeles City, a sub-branch of Returned and Services League of Australia. They send wheelchairs to them and distribute them to children in Angeles City and neighboring province (which is in the north part of the Philippines). They suggested I contact them and request the 10 chairs I was asking them.
I made contact with RSL, after some negotiations, they agreed, and I picked up the chairs. Unfortunately, I only managed to give out 1 out of 10 chairs. For many reasons but one of them was me being called off to join an emergency mission in Nepal. Partly I am to blame for the delay, but I have a pretty good excuse why the delay but don’t worry, I already arranged with someone with technical knowledge on the wheelchair and good network in the disability sector, we hope to give out those chairs in the next three months.
This time, being ambulatory, I tried to revive the project and give the remaining 9 chairs to the rightful owners. I made contact again with experts in the field, and with their help, I would be able to reach out to those kids that could use this type of chair for their everyday lives.
So I ended the day tired, with a swollen ankle but went home happy. The feeling of not being able to do anything worthwhile had faded over the weekend knowing that I will have something to look forward to in the coming days. For now, I will focus on Gab and see how much more we can still improve his chair and until when we can keep him using them until we need to find him a new one.