Another load of wheelchairs were recently prepped for shipment to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
By Dan Jensen, Camrose Booster
The Rotary Club of Camrose achieved a milestone this month when it sent wheelchair number 2,000 to Discapacitados Vallertenses A.C. Puerto Vallarta (a support group for children and adults with physical and mental difficulties).
Rotary has been shipping the wheelchairs for the last 15 years, usually in batches of 50 or 60.
“We loaded our first batch onto a school bus that was driven there by Don Rebus, Bob Bell, Jerome Stetar and Larry Sharuga in October 2000,” said Rotary Club of Camrose member Al Rostad. “Now we send them via Air Transat, which has always given us a good rate on freight.”
The wheelchairs, along with other medical equipment, including walkers, crutches, canes and wire baskets, are collected from Camrose residents, health care institutions,  and the provincial government’s AIDS to Daily Living program. They are picked up from the airport at Puerto Vallarta by the Rotary Club there, which then transports them to a support group’s warehouse for repair and distribution.
“They (Discapacitados Vallertenses A.C. Puerto Vallarta) have a distribution system that ensures the right people get them,” said Rebus. “Most people pay a nominal fee so they don’t just go and sell the wheelchairs.”
Wheelchairs are a bit of a rarity in the rural and poorer areas of Mexico because of the cost. A used wheelchair valued at between $300 and $500 in Canada would be worth thirty to forty thousand pesos in Mexico, an exorbitant sum considering the average daily wage for a Mexican worker is about 70 or 80 pesos.
“The government doesn’t help them very much,” said Rotarian Ron Grue. “There are not many nursing homes and the accepted standard is that the elderly are taken care of by the family.”
The wheelchairs sent from Canada are valued because they are made of steel and have rubber tires, making them tough enough to stand up to the abuse they receive from cobblestone streets and sidewalks.
“They are very valuable down there,” said Rebus. “They are very effective as opposed to the plastic ones they now manufacture.”
Discapacitados Vallertenses A.C. Puerto Vallarta was founded by Rotarian Ivan Applegate Curiel after he was paralyzed from the neck down in a diving accident at the age of 17, as a way of integrating people who had disabilities in an active and productive way back into normal society.
“My wife Chris and I heard him speak at a Rotary Club meeting when we were there in March of 2000,” said Rebus. “After the meeting we asked what the Rotary Club of Camrose could do to help and he said provide wheelchairs. They also told us they needed a bus so that the disabled people in Puerto Vallarta could be picked up and brought to the occupational therapy building.”
The Discapacitados Vallertenses A.C. Puerto Vallarta has worked hard over the years to change the attitudes towards the disabled. Along with starting new programs, it has been able to convince the City of Puerto Vallarta to install more and more wheelchair ramps at entrances to buildings.
“The wheelchair accessible ramps you see in Puerto Vallarta now are a result of Ivan and his association,” said Rebus. “All it took was getting a few committed people on the bandwagon.”
Grue was able to see first hand the difference the wheelchairs have made when he attended one of the support group’s Christmas parties.
“One of the boys who received a wheelchair was being carried everywhere by members of his family,” he said. “I saw the look of relief on the face of his parents because they knew they would have more freedom and that their son would be able to get to the places he wanted to go more easily.”
Rotary attributes most of the success it has received with the wheelchair project to the generous support of the community and the Rotarians who exemplify the Rotary motto of “Service Above Self” by donating their time, talents and resources.