How do I know that summer is here?
1. David, who lives with me and has cerebral palsy, starts to bemoan his beloved San Diego Padres who by the 4th of July are always 15 games out.
2. The kids of Canoa and the chapel are immersed in the Verano Feliz, (Joyful Summer) activities including arts, crafts, exercise, group participation, trips.
3. The flowers of Canoa, especially the succulents, have reached full bloom creating a multicolored oasis in the barren back hills (cerros pelones) of Tijuana.
Summer also enhances a somewhat more relaxed attitude as to what needs to be done. It gets too hot to follow a routine schedule. One of my uncle’s favorite stories was about being an altar server. The priest started the mass singing, “The Lord be with you.” He sang back, “And with your spirit.” The priest than chanted, “Harold, what did you do with the incense pot?” To which he replied in perfect pitch, “I left it on the altar because it was too God damn hot.”
Our project for the special kids of Carita de Dios is winding down. The children are using the buildings: three classrooms and a day care center which is a converted double wide trailer. It has not been the easiest of tasks. The center is about twenty five minutes by car or 55 minutes walking from CANOA. The road is not exactly the Camino Real, winding over hills, rivers of eroding dust, and pot holes comparable to craters. We have run the length of three plus soccer fields of wire underground in ditches through hard pan soil notable by the resistant zing of a non penetrating pick. We replaced all the plumbing and built a perimeter fence which had an estimate of $3,500 (U.S. dollars) just for materials. We changed most doors. We built ramps and guard rails, a stair case, repaired roofs, built cabinets, etc. The check list for finishing has almost been erased clean. However, we are still waiting for the federal power company and state water connections.
We have begun to organize a major event in Rosarito for all children of different capabilities which will be on or around the 20th of November. We are inviting all special children of Tijuana and Rosarito to participate especially the most severe. This will be our version of the London Olympics. We will have events and medals for inclusion not winning one of the first three places. Even Special Olympics favors the higher category youngsters and rewards victory. An athletic director will do limited or applicable calisthenics. We will fly kites and let the children hold them. We hope to have a sponsor for each child so that they can push those in wheel chairs through an obstacle course and help them pass a ball from one chair to the next. If we get permission, we will have a demonstration of equine therapy and a chance for each child to go horse back riding. Some kids in wheelchairs can move their legs but not stand. They can kick a ball from one to the next. Indeed, if anyone has more suggestions for events, let me know. We also plan a final parade of all sponsors and participants to promote friendship and not competition.
Each year I go to San Francisco to meet with friends. We will have a gathering for mass at 10:00 on Sat. Sept 15th at St. Peter’s Church, 24th and Alabama Streets and share a pot luck meal afterwards. Everyone is invited. The wonderful spirit of goodwill from people involved in myriad volunteer works of varied and great worth lifts up all hearts. Isaiah extends the invitation: “a message from the high God, the great God, whose habitation is eternity, whose name is hallowed! God, dwelling in that high and holy place, dwells also among chastened and humbled souls, bidding the humble spirit, the chastened soul, rise and live.”
Is December the happiest of months? Ask our CANOA kids who have been invited to 4 Christmas parties (posadas). On Friday the10th, Ana Sofia will turn 7 and will celebrate her birthday at CANOA. Our friends who organize equestrian therapy have invited us for a party on the 15th. The dentist who works in our dental clinic, Dr. Rosa Guzman has organized an event for the 18th. She has hired a clown thinking that David and your humble servant were not enough. They had everyone write a letter asking for some small gift. (David can now write on the computer. He wants two blondes). On the 22nd, Norma Bustamante has invited us and all of the children from the orphanage to a party at El Grand Hotel Tijuana. She is also the miracle worker who organized a campaign to collect goods for the flood victims of Mexico’s eastern coast. She convinced the government to provide a plane for 40 tons of material and the crews for distribution. We humbly contributed wheelchairs and walkers. On the 28th a crew from a local maquiladora (twin factory) is coming to be with the children and is bringing lunch.
But we have already begun the festivities: we start with a retreat for the parents of the children of the chapel who are going to make their first communion and confirmation. Then on the eight, the fiesta of the Immaculate Conception, we begin at 5:30 am with a ¾ mile long procession from the local bakery to the chapel accompanied by almost 50 youngsters who perform the traditional Aztecan dance. When we arrive at the chapel, we sing the mananitas, followed by the mass, and free menudo for everyone except me (that is plate I could never quite appreciate). On Dec. 11th we have 3 first communion masses which is often the happiest day of the children’s lives. On the 12th the dance groups split up in order to have two two mile processions, then mananitas, mass, and a kermes (carnival).
Perhaps it would be easy to write off the Marian devotion as infantile or excessive. But opportunities are rare in today’s world to help young people form stable alliances based on integration, respect, patience, confidence-trust, and reverence for the other. We promote Mary as a model for young women who need support in difficult circumstances. We need women who are willing to knock off from their thrones the macho abusers and raise up the lowly, the poor (my translation of the magnificat in Luke’s gospel story). One lady asked a small group meeting in our chapel, how come there are so many girls in the junior high school who are pregnant? Perhaps our traditions become more important as we try to get the youth to reflect on virtue and righteousness in a post modern culture that promotes casual and neutral relationships. Albert Camus made the observation that young women find out that what they thought was their sexual liberation turns into exploitation. In a border society, signs of exploitation are everywhere. We also need signs of honesty, reciprocity, devoted and committed endearment.
I am saddened to report the loss of my closest friend, Ruth Stone, who died this week at the age of ninety. She was stricken with polio in 1927 which limited her physical abilities all of her life. She compensated by reading books, thousands of books. I have visited her every Thursday for the past couple of years in the convalescent hospital. Never have I experienced a person so brilliant, insightful, considerate, progressive, and compassionate. Unable to walk, she moved from her costal home south of Tijuana to a care facility in National City. It hurt me to hear the staff of barely literate workers belittle her. She knew history, literature, politics, philosophy, and didactic and/or pedagogical systems. She always amazed me with observations as keen the day I last talked to her two weeks ago, as ever.
The reason that I say two weeks ago is because I told her then that I would not visit the following Thursday as I was going to a funeral. Today I went and helped her sister pick up her meager belongings. I will miss her counsel, wit, depth of understanding, and promotion of learning.
The funeral was for Raquel Garcia who died at 86, my friend of almost 50 years, the first person I met at St. Peter’s Parish in San Francisco. I learned my practical Spanish over tacos, chile rellenos, tamales, and wonderful conversation with her and her late husband, Jose Trinidad. She possessed a superior memory and inquiring mind, recalling instances from her youth, schooling in Guadalajara, and subsequently living in San Francisco and the bay area. She lived with us in Tijuana for a time. When told of her death, Candelaria, a young adult with cerebral palsy who lives with David and me, cried for an hour. Raquel was always kind and considerate of her.
David has been sick. At night, I am alone with them. Most often they sleep until the morning sun illumines the house. When they are sick I don’t mind staying up with them. My anguish is not knowing what or how to help them. When David’s cough got worse and didn’t let him sleep at night, I took him to the local doctor. When the prescribed medicine didn’t work, I took him to the Social Security Clinic. They gave him more medicine which hopefully has cleared up the cough. While there, they advised us to apply for a pension for him. So I asked David what he would do with all the money. He lifted up his hand a waved goodbye to me and then started to laugh. I laughed as well. From my hours of waiting at the clinic I have never seen anyone else laughing. They gave us an appointment to return the following day. So I wheeled David into the doctor’s cubicle and told him that this was an important examination as David wanted to get his pension and go to the Isla de las Mujeres, or Cancun. David responded with a blissful “ si’, si’, si’! He then proceeded to laugh and cough. The nurse came in and told David that the government would not pay for two pensions from a deceased insured. David’s mother receives the benefits now. As soon as she left, I told David, “no Isla de las Mujeres, no Cancun, but I might take you to the local park.” He laughed, I laughed, and even the doctor smiled.
Last Saturday I went to the cemetery of the village to bury Arturo Sandoval (no relative to the San Francisco Sandovals). He had been killed the day before, gangland style, along with two companions not far from the chapel. I checked out the crowd for any showing weapons but only saw various men with cans of beer. I made the service short and sweet in order to facilitate burial before dark and get out before any revenge shooting. The engulfing violence rages on unrelentedly. Three seems to be a popular number. Three triple slayings have enlivened the neighborhood in the past couple of months. No one in the area changes the common course of his or her activities. Isaiah says in Chap. 30, “a thousand shall tremble at the threat of one; if five threaten you, you shall flee, until you are left like a flagstaff on the mountaintop, like a flag on the hill. Yet the Lord is waiting to show you favor, and he rises to pity you; for the God is a God of justice; blessed are all who wait for him.” Isaiah sees a time of eminent justice and worth, of deliverance from violence and exploitation, a time of Christmas, an opportunity to paint the flag staff red and green.
Thanksgiving comes everyday. St. Ignatius teaches to look back every 24 hours and find reasons to give thanks to God, to be grateful for the gifts that we receive. These gifts are concrete, real examples of the benefits we gather in from the abundance of God’s grace. We harvest them every day according to the Gospel phrase, ‘grace upon grace'. Ignatius further states that this attitude is the basis of all prayer, the fundamental step in religious experience. Everything is gift if we but have eyes to see.
Despite complaints of suppression of its soap operas, Channel 12 in Tijuana broadcasts the World Series every year in Spanish. David and I are watching the first game. The announcers relate that the atmosphere inside of AT&T Park in San Francisco is a mad house (manicomio). I tell David that I am going to send him there. He gestures as if to indicate to the game. I tell him, “no, not to the game, to the manicomio.” He responds by pointing a finger at himself and shaking his head, ”No”. He then turns his finger at me and shakes his head, “Si!”. Then he laughs. During the eighth inning, the Giants start to score runs one on top of the other. A fan in the stands along the left field foul line hangs out a sign, “this is heaven.” After hearing the translation, David points to himself and nods emphatically, “Si’!”, and then points to me and with even more enthusiasm shakes his head, “NO!”
Twice a month we take the people from our center to equine therapy. At the last session, we had a crew including the cowboys and their families, our CANOA people, and a service group called New Awakening (Nuevo Despertar), of about 75 people. Once a year we have a Mass to commemorate the mother of a sponsor family and thank all those who cooperate. The atmosphere borders on the sacred. The cowboys are magnificent with the children; everyone is treated with kindness and respect; their concern for the children and patience with all is admirable. A number of people from New Awakening group have struggled with addiction but are beginning to emerge to a better life and eager to be of service. A group of women who do touch therapy bring their massage table and treat the kids. The entire event, the camaraderie, the kindness, the joking, the repeated smiles of the children prefigures heaven.
Amber, Kathy, and Gordon along with a group of teenagers came all the way from Utah to bring us adapted technology for our computers. The programs enable us to stimulate brain function for the kids through use of fun games. David can now read and is learning to write on the computer. One of the new games is called fly catcher in which by striking the cursor, he stimulates a frog to catch an insect. I told him that it suits him well as he is a man of few flies (hombre de pocas moscas). No kidding- if a fly lands on him, he thinks it is a nuclear attack.
More to give thanks for: the apartments are finished. We are waiting for connection to the electrical grid and to the city water. That is beyond our control. We have a couple of families lined up for use. A friend from the television station came and announced our application system which will give priority to those families who will benefit from the therapy at CANOA. The apartments will be free-- the only charge will be social equity, cooperating with the other families to take care of one another. We hope that this also will be a sign of heaven.
Three years ago Carles and Merce came from the Catalan region of Spain to work with our special kids during the summer. Both professional teachers, they encouraged the children to paint, sing, make masks and costumes, go on field trips, and have lots of fun. They requested that the neighborhood teenagers also participate one on one with the young people of other capabilities. They repeated the same program last year with great success. This year Merce’s father took sick and is nearing the end in his struggle with cancer. They had to cancel. Two of the teenagers who live three blocks from Canoa have taken over based on their previous experience. They organize games, create paper sculptures, make angels whom David says that look him, fashion clocks from paper plates with pipe cleaner lancets, and paint rainbows (David’s native land).They have even managed to get Candy to stay within the drawn lines whereas before she struggled to color the sheet instead of the table. We also have gone to equine therapy, a cookout in the park, a trip to the zoo, a day of songs and crafts at a local ranch along with two other groups that work with the handicapped. For the final day we invited the kids from all the groups along with their families (those who have them) to a party at Tijuana’s luxury hotel to display their artwork and see a video of the summer activities made by one of the teenagers. The owner of the hotel invited the television station with the intention of promoting the joy of those who overcome their disabilities and participate together. We had three hundred people in a space designed for two hundred watching the kids sing beautifully and dance to rival the National Folk Dance group. We even had an autistic boy dance splendidly in front of every one present, an extremely difficult task for anyone bound within the limits of his or her own world.
We also sponsored a summer program for the kids in the general community working out of the chapel designed for those between the ages of 5 and 12. The parents have commented how they enjoy the opportunity to get their children out of the house and away from watching TV all day and fighting with their sisters. Perhaps some of you have heard the same complaints in other regions of the world? Among the various groups, we have a couple of hundred kids and a large number of teenagers. One of the adult advisors wanted perfect silence in the chapel. I left the message that as long as the kids are having fun, God is pleased and does not count decibels. I confess that I really am in no position to know if God is pleased or not; but I detest overzealous defenders of pious foolery.
Work in the handicapable community requires patience, enduring hope, and an abundance of grace. Breaking the imprisonment of the self, offering a glimmer of expectation, and crawling out of despair demand considerable understanding and unending trust. I could never thank sufficiently the volunteer therapists. They live in improved shacks around the center but come straight from heaven. No one could be kinder and more pleasant, solicitous while at the same time genuine.
A family that used to live in front of the center moved to Mexicali to find work. They called me to see if we would take in a neighbor for therapy, a 39 year old woman who had been in an accident. They offered to drive her from Mexicali. I thought that we do not work with adults, that we have to be careful not to include cases that require special care resulting from serious spinal cord injuries, that the prospects of improvement in such cases are rare. Then I remembered Doctor Maryluz, the directress of the orphanage that we build in Peru. People always caution her not to take in more cases that what she has the resources to accommodate. The doctor always answers, “Where else could they go. Somehow we will manage.” After consulting the therapists, I told the family in Mexicali, “O.K., bring her over, and we will see what we can do.” I calculated that the new apartments are sitting empty waiting for a connection to the electrical grid. We could run a line from the main building to supply one apartment without significant voltage drop. As for her therapy, food, and living expenses, we always have enough. She arrived with her ten year old son who takes care of her. The apartment meets their needs perfectly. We started her on a program of lifting weights, calisthenics, and isometrics to facilitate transfers, the most difficult process for anyone striving for independence, She had to acquire the force necessary to lift herself in and out of bed, on and off the wheelchair, etc.
While we were getting her started, I met a wonderful man by the name of Oton who had suffered an accident while working as a drywaller when his scaffold separated form the wall he was framing. He tried to hang on to a bundle of heavy gauge steel studs that he was hoisting with one hand and drag the scaffold back with the other. If he let the bundle go, he would have decapitated his partner on then planks below him. He succeeded in righting the scaffold and balancing the bundle but wrenched his back at the same time. The ambulance took him to the hospital where after days of testing, they told him that he would never walk again as he had separated three disks. After major surgery and four plates screwed into his spinal column, while enduring pain that challenged his sanity, and month after month of therapy, he not only can walk but also work and do most everything but tie his shoes. While at the rehab clinic, he made mental notes of what he considered the most beneficial exercises and equipment. My drywall friends say that they can build anything. My finish carpenter friends call them “stinkin wallers who can’t measure closer than a quarter inch.” But Oton, from his own personal experience and observation, fashioned an exercise machine that fits right on to her wheelchair. The apparatus works off a pulley system to strengthen both the arms and legs at the same time. She now does a thousand repetitions. We persuaded her to try the parallel bars. At first she could manage a single lap and now does 13. The therapists massaged and exercised her limbs. They have her walking with a walker, her first steps in four years.
The process however has included a mountain of unseen effort. She had been married for 23 years and raised 4 children when the accident left her paralyzed from the waist down. The husband stuck around for a year and then left in favor of a younger woman. The three older children seem to be more concerned about their careers. In the months that she has been with us, I have never seen them visit. Under the same circumstances I imagine that many of us would have eaten our last taco and jumped off the ship into the gulf of Baja California. Indeed, when she arrived, she wasn’t inclined to do much to help herself. Depression had grabbed hold of her mind and soul. We have had to continually point to first base, reassert self confidence, and reconstruct her sense of personal worth. This process has been just as important as physical rehab.
Our volunteers continually encourage, listen with empathy, joke, and smile. They promote interaction among all who come to the center making everyone feel part of a family. Visitors to Canoa have remarked how they can feel the caring, kindness and respect that envelopes the environment. This effect emanates from the kids’ acceptance and inclusion of one another. Their concordance pushes ahead and ratifies a camaraderie of spirit. If you have ever heard David laugh, dance, and joke all at once while straining the retention straps on his wheelchair, you also would be inspired. After four months of David, Candy, Maricela, Memo, Emma, and Lidia, she has renewed energy and more importantly renewed hope.
Chuy recently celebrated his 11th birthday. Three and a half years ago, he climbed up on the back of a moving car to hitch a ride. He lost his grip, fell backward, and landed on his head. The doctors placed a valve in his brain to relieve pressure, but could not bring him back to consciousness. After eight months in a coma, the neurologist wanted to turn off the life support system. The family pleaded that if he had made it this far, they could wait until all the blinking lights on the monitors went off. His grandmother who accompanied throughout the ordeal had seen tiny signs of life unobserved by the medical staff. He twitched, fleetingly moved a finger, until one day two months later, he woke up.
When he came to us almost three years after the fall, he still could not walk. We put him on a program of limb manipulation, massage, and exercise until he developed strength and confidence. We then sent him to the parallel bars where he took a couple of steps. Again, our ladies have not only loosened his contractures but have instilled new spirit into him. We gave him a walker which he tried out with trepidation and a look on his face of dismay. After a couple of weeks, we prohibited him from using his wheelchair in Canoa. He now walks hesitantly with the walker or without it hanging on to his grandmother. He completes his laps in the parallel bars walking backwards or a tip toes. We have started him on a stationary bicycle to build up resistance and muscle strength. We are also teaching him to read and do basic arithmetic while in the process of enrolling him in a special program for primary school. He has already learned how to count. When he can number experiences, he will have come from getting 69th to potters field, all the way to the land of double plus.
We have two Davids. Our second David is now seventeen; born with hydrocephalia, he has lived from infancy at a local orphanage, Hogar Infantil La Gloria. When they first brought him to us, I didn’t think that we would be able to do much for him. His legs had already deformed and twisted from lack of movement. I kept a copy of the psychologist’s report, “no reaction to external stimulus.” Neither did he move his head, nor his arms. In David’s case, movement restriction caused repetitive pain especially at night which impeded both his sleep and the sleep for those charged with his care. Our volunteers worked with him ever so gently. After two months, they restored movement in his neck which relieved the pain and let him sleep. After many more months, they have enabled him to gain full range of motion of his upper appendages. But just as importantly, he now smiles and laughs even reaching out playfully to grab the therapists’ arms. He follows simple instructions. We will never get the legs to straighten out as the contractions have progressed too far. Just providing some measure of contentment and recognition makes the effort more than worthwhile.
At the other end of the spectrum, we have a 16 month old girl, Nicole, who was born with microcephalia. We have put her on the Philadelphia method of therapy also called “patron cruzado,” which involves complete movement of all limbs and the head in a rotating pattern. It lacks popularity in the rehab community because it requires three to five therapists all working in coordination. The only problem we have with her is that she steals the hearts of everyone. She has developed enough trust so that she passes from the arms of one to another of the volunteers. We even take her to equine therapy where she sits in exacting attention in the arms of one of the lady riders.
The Federal Electrical Commission has run three poles and the transmission line for the new apartments. A local politician, Catalino Zavala, made the arrangements, albeit two years after the promised delivery date. We did not have to pay anything. The same service for the main building cost $8,000 (dollars). But even then, we got the governor of the state of Baja California, Osuna Millan, to pay for it. We have been given the green light to contract the installation of the meters. When we went to make the arrangements, they wanted a list of details. Other friends who work in the Commission said that they would take care of it but to have patience. Yes, but not another two years, please!
Last week we hosted a day of recollection for the Fraternity of the Physically Limited of Tijuana. No one who attends comes on their own power. They exude a sense of having overcome, of confidence in the face of great obstacles. Two volunteered for the hot seat, a position of the accused at a trail. All those present have the opportunity to ask them any question what so ever. They answered with sincerity about the difficult times and the rejections they suffered, but also about those who have befriended and helped them along the way. When one of the ladies probed about the lovers in their lives, they replied, “God.”
In chapter 41 of Isaiah, there is a wonderful description of God in the coastlands where “everyone helps his neighbor, and says to his brother, ‘Take courage!’ The craftsman encourages the goldsmith, and he who smooths with the hammer him who strikes the anvil saying of the soldering, ‘It is good.’” Isaiah has a vision of a society of workers, drywallers and carpenters, welders, metal workers all lifting one another up. The compelling spirit of cooperation is also the spirit of God.
But the prophet goes on to describe the task of God’s servants: “I have chosen you and not cast you off; fear not for I am with you, be not dismayed for I am your God, I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you, I will help you. I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.” Having seen those who need to be sustained, those who rely on others to push them, those who have been driven to the limits of endurance , who have been soldered and pasted back together, who now readily admit that they are God’s chosen people to reveal the splendor and the glory of the almighty one, I stand in silent admiration. How could they confess that the hand that holds them up is not their own determination but the very presence of God? Would it not be much easier to curse the day they were born with cerebral palsy, than to sing the psalm of hope in God? Later Isaiah tells of these God’s servants being a light to the nations, to the islands, to farthest limits of the earth. Maybe our kids are there as well?
La Costa de Oro Bus does not use the main terminals but a series of gas stations, restaurant or market place stalls: a crucial calculation because the buses bathrooms don’t work requiring conditioning and accommodation to nature’s necessities. We arrived at the Tijuana departure point at 11:30 am on Sunday and at our destination in Cuilapan de Guerrero, Oaxaca, at 5pm the following Tuesday. The drivers could not have been more professional, courteous, and considerate. I had two seats to myself the whole way. The five of us from CANOA left our belongings in the country house that offered us hospitality and went to the conference site to register. By the time that we took the local bus back to Cuilapan, we had been traveling 60 hours. The conference began the next day with a report by a representative from UNICEF explaining the general conditions of the handicapped: worldwide handicapped make up 10% of the population, for Latin America and the Caribbean this amounts to 60 million, of whom 90% live in poverty, and 60% live in dire poverty. Studies have found handicapped women to be even more dependent and isolated. The following speaker, Dr. Chapal, came from India and heads the U.N. office on community based rehabilitation. He will publish a manual for inclusive strategy for disabled people at the summer conference of the U.N. for the handicapped in Africa. He explained the central theme of the conference: the empowerment, involvement, and incorporation of the handicapped in the community. The president of Mexico’s wife, Margarita Zavala, then addressed the assembly, delivering a well received explanation of Mexico’s efforts to integrate handicapped people and afford opportunity for development in their own communities including rural and indigenous areas. She even stayed for the rest of the morning for the general assembly which followed the same pattern with the afternoons dedicated to smaller groups. The whole conference had continuous translation into sign and earphones for language translation.
Several pivotal ideas evolved from presentations by representatives from South America: How to break the vicious circle of disability and poverty? How to promote participation in the community? How to sensitize the community and avoid paternalism, discrimination, and marginalization? One speaker noted the role of a solidarity economy not based on capitalism or state run operatives, but on cooperatives and efficient small scale economies reminiscent of John Paul II ideas (an interesting side note is the drifting away of Benedict to state obligated care for the less privileged). Many speakers mentioned the 2007 Declaration of the United Nations on the Rights of the Handicapped. The Declaration was ratified in Mexico on Sept 27 of the same year and is now the law guaranteeing to all handicapped people equal rights and access to health, social betterment, education, transportation, work, and sustainable living. The guarantee of law changed the perspective. Inclusion is no longer an act of charity or beneficial assistance, but a right. Handicapped people no longer have to beg for public recognition. Their inclusive development has become an obligation that the whole society recognizes. The members of the convention termed this a paradigm shift that demands response on all levels from national public policy, to state and local assemblies and all the way down to the communities where people of other capabilities live and interact with their neighbors. This process admits the reality of response. A team from Argentina explained their work with people handicapped by mental trauma, psychosocial problems, etc. After institution, the people so affected wind up back into the community anyway. They claimed that 25% of the general population experience at some time in their lives a severe mental challenge. Any effective treatment must then be based in the community. Rehabilitation based in the community then becomes a model for all heath services; large institutions that treat only urban residents have outlived an efficient model. Teams that offer networked solutions depending on local resources function better. The teams should feature cultural sensitivity and include people with disabilities who can understand the predicament of those in need. One presentation showed a slide of two young girls playing soccer. One of the girls calls to the other who is down syndrome, “you are handicapped.” The companion responds, “I’m Vilma. I am your friend. I like to play with you.” When community based rehabilitation has reached its goals, various members of the local community work together to foster sensitive opportunities for inclusive development. Large institutional models cannot reach far enough to promote broad based development. The strategy could include any social model including church groups where large institutions are increasingly failing to represent personal involvement. Membership should not include only those with the means of transportation and minimal resources required for participation.
The ultimate vision of community based rehabilitation is the formation of a new society that is marked not by economic advantage (a car in every garage,) nor fashionable residences, but by participation, inclusion, and opportunity for all.
What does all this mean for us? We should involve the parents more. We should listen more to what they think is the best path to rehabilitation. We will form a community based team to reach out to those youngsters that live too far to come to our center. We will develop a video to promote acceptance for school age children with handicaps and form a teams to go to the local schools to promote inclusion. We will work on a model from Columbia that starts with a life history of the family to better understand the challenges of acceptance. We will network with other groups to exchange ideas and promotion of community based rehabilitation.
We were privileged to participate. We are only a small group, but I think that we do real work in an area of challenges. We are an international group. The doctor from our project in Peru was with us at the conference. The center that we built outside of Arequipa now has 42 residents and a diagnostic center that treats the local community as well as outreach programs trying to keep families sustained and together. We are no where near the size of the Christian Blind Mission from Germany, but we do not have all their problems or inconsistencies. We made friends with many groups with whom we can share resources and information.
The family that shared their house with us in Cuilapan treated us with more hospitality than what we could ever deserve. We ate tortillas and tamales from their corn, mole, chayotes from the garden. We went to mass on Sunday in a church dating from 1525 a stone’s throw from the first house that Hernan Cortez build in Mexico. The trip left us with pleasant memories and challenges for the future.
By the time that Jesus reached his eighth birthday, he already had a reputation of being playful, pleasantly mischievous, and slightly dare develish. One day passing time outside in front of his house with his friends, he decided that he wanted to hitch a ride on the back of a moving car . He managed to jump on the rear fender but could get a firm grasp neither on the vehicle’s side nor on its roof which he could barely reach. He fell off backwards and landed on his head. The friends ran for his mother who found him unconscious in obvious trauma. She rushed him to the hospital where they operated to relieve pressure on the brain and put him on life support including artificial respiration.
The family, especially the grandmother, stayed day and night at his bedside. He remained in a coma for eight months showing no signs of improvement. There upon the attending neurologist explained that after so long there was no hope for Jesus, that the window of opportunity had closed, and that it would be better to disconnect the machines and let go, stop his suffering. The family pleaded for more time which they were granted. Two months later, Jesus woke up.
In the miracle accounts of the Gospels, the sacred author, especially Mark, frequently attaches the word ‘immediately,’ as in, “immediately he took up his pallet and walked.” The experience of those of us at CANOA in dealing with these cases is exactly the opposite. Recovery demands prolonged, consistent, painful therapy. There are no quick cures nor short cuts.
When Jesus came to CANOA, he could not walk. The long stay in the hospital saved his life but atrophied his muscles. Our gentle, kind therapists started him on a basic course of repeated movements and exercises. After a couple of months, he graduated to the parallel bars when he managed all of two steps partially supported. Little by little with encouragement and acceptance from the other youngsters, he increased his steps so that he could walk in the bars for two complete turns. We then got him a child sized walker and took away his wheelchair which at first was not a particularly popular move. But after some protest, he then acclimated himself to his improved circumstance and even began to leave the walker preferring to grab on to his grandmother. After six months, he could navigate around the house independently and increase the distances of his supported walking.
One of the CANOA volunteers works as a coordinator for the National Institute of Adult Education which offers a program of home study for physically challenged youngsters incapable of mainstreaming. She enrolled Jesus and started to guide him along a path that would eventually bring him back to an equivalent grade level as others his age.
But just as all the arrows pointed upward, Jesus took sick with a high fever. He did not get better with medication. When the infirmity impeded his breathing, the family rushed him again to the hospital. He did not get better. Two days into treatment, he had a heart attack. The doctors informed that he would probably not pull out of it.
Jesus refused to die. After another month, Jesus walked out of the hospital hanging on to his grandmother. He continues to come to CANOA when the weather is not too cold. He still flashes the same smile and exhibits the same unwavering determination to make it all the way back.
Carles and Merce have been coming from Barcelona,Spain for the last 9 years. As special education teachers they bring expertise,charisma,and distinctive joy,plus enthusiasm to direct our Happy summer (Verano Feliz) Program the trains teenagers to work with kindergarten and primary schoolers in arts and crafts,songs,field trips,and dance. This year,they taught Beethoven's Hymn to joy in sign language to the kids (utterly impressive when all join in together.) We have dedicated the fourth Sunday 10:15 Mass at the special children's' CANOA center to disabilities that includes translation into sign done proudly by two young women from local community and a class afterward. The only problem is that the kids learn more quickly than I. ("tough to teach an old dog new tricks") This year we had 120 youngsters guided by 40 teenagers.
At CANOA-KORIMA we continue the work of therapy. Small gains over long periods provide hope and a measure of acceptance. We put a new roof on the multipurpose building,$340;.If we had waited longer,we would have had to rip off the old roofing material and apply a new base coat. The new roof enables us to contact a solar powered hot water system for hydrotherapy. We will employ the same technology that our house in Chihuahua uses. They purchased the parts for us. But more on this later.
Carita de Dios has a new dinning room. The green house has about a week's work left,and we are working on a peripheral fence. This also falls under the category of continuing projects. The Peruvian house does wonderful work. They face the problem of what to do with the kids that have been with them for more then twenty years. We recently helped them purchase land for a new house(the cost of land has increased 5x's since we purchased the original property 18 years ago.) They are in the process of acquiring permits,plan etc. Carolina recently died at age 23 of a heart attack. She came as a baby after neighbors found her tied to a tree,abandoned. The parents never visited.Upon learning of the death,they came to blame the orphanage for the death and to claim the body presumably to sell the organs. Another child came as a fire victim with burns on the face. After some time,the mother showed up to sue the orphanage for burning the child.But the children all come with a medical record which they accessed and exposed the mother. Instead of Isaiah,I quote Knox translates Mt. 5:11-12: "Blessed are you,when men revile you,and persecute you,and speak all manner of evil against you falsely,because of me. Be glad and light-hearted,for a rich reward awaits you in heaven."
The escalating level of violence in our remote area of Tijuana overwhelms. Last Friday,they bumped off a man by our football field. Later they kidnapped the wife of the proprietor of a fruit stand a block and a half from the house. On Monday they dispatched a man a block from the church. Who's they??two black robed gunmen with masks in a blue Suburban. Our parishioners say, "We put ourselves in God's hand and pray for the best."