One of the unexpected bonuses for our trip’s success was the fact that Stephanie Inwald, an Occupational Therapy student from the University of Illinois at Chicago was finishing up her internship/fieldwork at CASP, and as soon as we found out that her stay there would overlap with ours for a few days, she became an invaluable resource for our preparation, providing pre-evaluation screenings of some of the people we would be seeing, some of who were part of an early childhood study sponsored by the Fogarty Institute. Not only was her ability to let us know much even before we left for Peru valuable, she was an invaluable resource for Steve and I on the first day of evaluations, with her command of the Spanish language, her ability to “talk shop” with me as a fellow therapist, and her quick orientation to the many people and goings-on at CASP. This was all the more remarkable due to the fact that she was saying goodbye to many of the people she was introducing us to!
Steve Bolander from Flatrock, Michigan, was the first of our team to arrive due to the rest of our team’s delayed arrival. Since this was not the first time he had been to the Ann Sullivan Center, he jumped right in and began to do little and not so little projects, a trait that characterized his man-with-many-hats role throughout the time we were there. This included finding a child’s bicycle in disrepair, cleaning and adjusting it as he found the time, until he was able to get it working and spiffed up so that any child would be proud to use it. Later, he found himself heading up making the wheelchair ramp to the auditorium stage safer by first drawing up plans for and then installing a curb/safety strip that would prevent someone accidentally propelling themselves off the edge of the ramp. Whether it was removing and replacing wheelchair push rims, writing down measurements for a wheelchair assessments, working with “Maestro,” or finding a little project to fill the time between other projects, Steve’s unassuming competence was something we could all count on in making our work better. Steve talked about how badly he abused the Spanish language, but his ability to speak it not only far outstripped the rest of the team, his willingness to try it out with just about anyone concerning anything made him an instant hit with everyone he met. But if you were to ask Steve about what contribution he felt was more important, he would not hesitate to reply that it was the connections with the children (and adults) we met and the love he was able to share with them that defined his purpose for being there.
Mack Price, having decades of experience as an appliance repairman/owner, apartment landlord host of other skills, had no trouble at all jumping into the fray both in the wheelchair modification realm and in the host of other projects he found himself completing. His in-depth knowledge came in particularly handy in the laundry classroom, where he switched the way the door opened on the dryer next to the wall, was able to make the coin operated machines work without coins or a key, gave valuable washer and dryer maintenance advice to the teacher, and otherwise share his skills and wisdom. One example pops to mind when right before the slide show presentation that Dale and I gave to a crowd of around 100 therapists, family members and individuals with disabilities, we became aware of the need for demonstrating some wheelchair propelling skills, which would require the need for a lightweight wheelchair. During the short time it took for Dale to find a person using a wheelchair to ask to see if we could borrow their wheelchair for demonstration purposes, Mack and Steve had gone down to the basement, found an appropriate wheelchair frame, wheels, and other parts in the “bone pile” and assembled them into a usable chair so the lady did not have to lend her chair after all!
Dale was the instigator of this team, having asked each one of us to join him on this Volunteers in Mission return trip to the Ann Sullivan Center, where he had gone the year before with his wife and daughter to share their lives as a family living with disabilities with the families at CASP who shared this common bond. It was this past trip that opened Liliana Mayo’s eyes to the potential CASP could realize in providing more resources for those needing wheelchairs with good positioning and seating. It was his seeing the potential in each member of our motley crew and convincing us of our potential to be more than the sum of our parts that gave each one of us the opportunity to make this leap of faith. It was his willingness to become the team leader for the first time, the organizer who took on the responsibility to work out the myriad details that must be worked out for such an undertaking to succeed. This on top of the decades of experience he brought with him as a Certified Rehabilitation Technical Specialist, with the ability to make the doctor/therapists requests for a functional positioning wheelchair into reality. Dale’s goal was to return to make adjustments, install parts and bring more mobility and seating equipment to the people of CASP, and this was realized despite a brief but concerning few days when we could not find the parts that had been shipped down. Fortunately due to persistence and not a few prayers, they surfaced in time for us to make some wheelchairs fit better an be more functional.
One of the real breaks that occurred even before we departed for Peru was when I stumbled across an organization called mobilitybuilders.org which was founded in 1997 by a Kansan-turned-Washington-stater, Todd Lefkowics. Having married a Peruvian, Todd put his skills as an engineer for Boeing and as an occupational therapist toward helping Peruvians develop the skills to build their own wheelchairs and seating/positioning systems. Included under the mobility builders umbrella is the grassroots organization Rumbos Caminos una Esperanza, or Rumbos for short. Paired with Peruvian therapists, who provide expert evaluations and measurements, they are able to utilize software developed by Todd to build custom wheelchairs and seating systems designed for that particular child. After exchanging emails and phone calls with Todd, it became apparent to me that there could be a catalyzing collaboration between CASP and Rumbos with a little networking. All of these things fell into place during our visit, which I’ll go into more detail during my fourth and final installment.