29 Nov

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After the lushness and close relationships I developed in Guatemala, I was reticent about the trip to Peru.  First I was surprised at how brown it is.  Especially the low lands along the Pacific ocean.  Apparently it never rains there, and hasn’t rained in two years.  so arriving in Lima was a bit of a shock coming from green Guatemala.  Lima is a very busy and bustling city.  Constant traffic and business.  We stayed in a hotel south of town in Mira FLores, and took a tour of the towns squares and cathedrals.  Lima has quite a bit of history with it’s 16th century cathedrals.  From there we flew to Cusco in the Andes.  Cusco is at 11,700 feet above sea level.   We were all light headed upon arrival, and since we found out we had children to seat the next day we took a tour of the local Incan ruins.

The Incans are master stone carvers which is evident in their ruins.  The next day we took two busses and a train to Machu Picchu.  It was a wonderful trip, but takes quite a bit to get there.  We loved our time in Cusco in the town squares, churches and restaurants.  We had many good meals there, but many of us were also sick there.  Between the altitude and the local bacteria, we  were dropping like flies.  I had minor troubles compared to the others, who were very sick.

Despite our sickness we were able to distribute 30 wheelchairs to adults and children in Cusco in partnership with the Rotary club and EquipKids.  Equipkids is funded out of Canada and are the primary suppliers of wheelchairs for children in Peru.  Two Rotary clubs in Modesto organized this trip and funded the cost of the wheelchairs, and Equipkids and Rotary in Cusco helped locate the families in need and get them to the Rotary’s building for the fittings.

The volunteers in the group included an several business leaders from Modesto who have been on previous trips with Hope Haven, along with two wheelchair vendors from North Carolina, A pediatric professor from a PT program in Stockton and two PT students.


Samuel and helping others

29 Nov

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And finally now to the story of Samuel and how to help. So many of you have been asking how to help.  Well, this blog will give you options to help.

First let me tell you Samuel’s story.  He is 25 and came to Guatemala from El Salvador to find work.  Met a young woman, and they were dating and she was pregnant when he was shot 5 times while walking in Guatemala City.  Guatemala is very, very dangerous, and there are many vitims of gunshots and crime.  Now let me also way, Wally had met Samuel through church relations.  Apparently, Samuel was converted to Mormonism, and Wally met him when he was a Mormon missionary, but when the Mormons found out he had a pregnant girlfriend, they kicked him out of the mission.  It was after that that he was shot.  He was given acute care and then sent home to El Salvador. Or lets say his mother took him back to El Salvador.  They did not fuse or put him in a back brace.  Heas shot through T10, his leg, his arm, his stomach, etc.   They told his mother to not move him except to log roll him so that his back could heal.  So basically he healed in a poor position.  His back is not straight, which makes keeping his balance difficult.   After laying in bed for three months, and his mother, caring for him full time, with no food or money.  Samuel told her to take him back to Guatemala to see if they could find a hospital to rehabilitate him and get him going again.  So he arrived in the middle of the night, in the back of a truck, with nothing but a diaper on, and it was raining.  He was hypothermic and shivering.  First they contacted Amy, the OT and she called Wally.  Wally and Amy tried to get him admitted to four different hospitals for rehab, and no one would take him because he only has physical disabitlies, not cognitive. There are no rehab programs for someone with no money.  So they ended up at Wally’s house and they dragged the mattress downstairs so that they could move Samuel into the room for the night.  Wally tried various social organizations wtih no hope.  He also suggested that Samuel’s mother stay and live in his house and take care of Samuel, but she refused and went back to El Salvador.  So by the time I arrived in Guatemala, Wally asked Hope Haven if he could stay with Samuel in the guest house downstairs, and help care for him and get him going with the plan of connecting him with the two organizations helping adults in wheelchairs, Hope Haven and Transitions.  When I arrived Samuel could not transfer by himself, his donated chair was a wreck and he had a bladder infection and the start or pressure sores.  So Wally and I became a team, teaching and helping Samuel to learn his self-care and ADL’s.  By the time I left he could transfer independently, was managing his bowel and bladder program with very little help, and was going to Hope Haven daily to help out.  The problem is Hope Haven is already full staffed and there is no real job for him.

So, Wally and I have a proposal.  That is we can raise $100 per month through donations to Hope Haven which are designated for Samuel. Then they can pay him a salary and provide him room and board at the guest house.  A ramp was built so that he can come and go from the house to the shop by himself.  They will start cross training him on various jobs, and we hope in six months, he can become fully independent.

So I am asking for 10 people to commit $10 per month for 10 months to give Samuel and Hope Haven time to create a job for him and allow him an option for independence.  Samuel understands this is to be reevaluated in 6 months and is not a free gift.

I have come to love Samuel and his quiet personality.  He is thoughtful, reflective and analytical.  We have had many discussions about his options and how he needs to help himself.  As he says ” help me by forcing me to help myself”.

Due to difficutly with how to get the money to Samuel and Hopen Haven I have a special request for how the donations are made.  The head of Mission Ball has offered his assitance in getting the money to Samuel, but you will need to donate to his website at  this will take you to a pay pal donation site for Frontline international.

In order for them to know that this money is for Samuel,  please add 30 cents to the total, so for example if a $20 donation, then please put $20.30.  That way Torry will know this is for Samuel and he will send the money to a paypal account for Wally to use for Samuel.  I know this seems convoluted, but this way, you can deduct your donation for Samuel.  Torry used to work for Hope Haven and now has his own ministry.

If you would like to donate to Hope Haven directly to fund the KidsChairs you can go to

It costs $180 for each wheelchair that can significantly change the life of a child forever.

My sincere hope is that you can donate even a small amount to help continue this good work!

Oct 25 Last Week in Guatemala

14 Nov

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This is my last week in Guatemala.  The time has literally flown by.  I have developed some deep friendships here and my Spanish has improved by leaps and bounds.  Mark Richard, who is the director of Hope Haven (tall guy in Red shirt) arrived here for the week before we fly to Peru for our work there.

Wally Estrada is the principal of the school here who has been helping  Samuel Molina, (in wheelchair with red shirt) the young man who is the recent paraplegic.  They have become dear friends and Samuel continues to develop his ability to transfer independently, and take care of his own bowel and bladder program, use his wheelchair and now we are trying to establish a position for him at Hope Haven allowing him to work and generate income.  All of the workers in the wheelchair factory have become friends.  They all have moving stories,  Gustavo with Brittle Bones disease, who can build anything including adapting his car to drive without foot pedals.  Carlos, who lost both his legs when he was on a train, trying to cross the border into the US.  Misael, the accountant for the organization and his sweet family.

Monday I went back to check on Kenny, the quadraplegic and I fashioned for him another adaptive device that allows him to use a pointer on the computer touch screen at work so that he can now put orders in, and allows him to use his cell phone.  He was elated with the touch pointer.  Basically an allen wrench, fit into a hand splint, with thermoplastic glued onto the end.

It was the time to take my last walks through Antigua, say my goodbyes and complete my last bit of work here.  Also, try to fit all my Guatemalan souvenirs in my suitcase, which is turning out to be a challenge.

Sheryl in Peru, an Absence of Posts…

1 Nov

Not-Sheryl here…

Posting on behalf of Sheryl who is in Lima, Peru. She has no Internet access and asked that I drop a quick note to let you all know that the wheelchair/walker fittings are still going well. She says it’s heartbreaking to see some of the “homes” that these children live in. Simply heartbreaking.

She and her group are wrapping up their work there and she’ll be back in the US on Sunday, November 7th, and she promises several good blogs to make up for the lack.

Additionally, to the many who have asked both publicly and privately how you can help. Sheryl says she has the information and will be posting it when she gets back. She wanted to be absolutely certain that any monies donated went to Hope Haven and not any bureaucracies. More to come on that soon.

So, continued good wishes for the rest of her time in Peru. The altitude, combined with the lengthy absence from home, and the often appalling living conditions are wearing on her. She can’t wait to get back to California.

Macademia Farm

27 Oct

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There is a Macadamia Farm about 30 minutes from the house I am staying at in Antigua.  It was started as an ecological experiment and is called Valhalla to provide a sustainable organic option for Guatemalans.  They provide a free tour of the farm, free samples of their chocolates, a free facial and have an open air restaurant with macadamia pancakes.  Also they claim to have the most beautiful bathroom in Guatemala.

So I decide to go there this morning…… To get there you have to take the Chicken Bus.  This is the big bus that has everyone packed in like sardines and they pile all sorts of things on top of the bus, baskets of food, chickens, a toilet, whatever.  It costs 3 quetzales (35 cents).  I have to catch the bus to Santa Maria de las Duenas and then ask them to let me off at Valhalla Farm.  Well sure enough I get on what I think is the right bus, but find out I am on the wrong bus, so I get off and wait again for another bus going down the right road.  This is on the way to Volcanoe Fuego (Fire) which puts out a puff of smoke every morning and is still active.

The farm has no electricity, so everything they do is in little sheds or out in the open.  The macadamia trees were brought from California and are 30 years old.  The nuts fall naturally to the ground and then the green hulls are taken off by machine.  Then the brown shells are sorted by size and laid in the sun to dry.  Since they don’t have electricity, the nuts are processed in town.  They make macadamia oil and face cream.  Honey and the most delicious macadamia nut pancakes with blueberry jam they grow and make there along with macadamia butter, which is kind of like peanut butter.

Then I sat down for my free facial and the gal doing my facial asks me why I am here and I explain it all, and she says,  I have a child with special needs.  Then she goes on to explain she had rubella when she was pregnant and the child was born, deaf, and with many deformities and is 15 years old.  I ask her if the child has a wheelchair, and she says no….

Again, it’s this Guatemalan thing….. OK<  I tell her that if she can bring her daughter to the Hope Haven shop we will give her a wheelchair free.  She says REALLY?  Her daughter has been homebound for 15 years. So I give her the phone number to the shop so she can set up and appointment before I leave.

SO, it was a really good morning… Oh, let me finish about the most beautiful bathroom in Guatemala.  I laugh when they say this, but go into the shed, and there is a blue sink surrounded by potted plants, and a blue toilet in the middle of the shed, with flowers on the back.   The shed is filled with potted plants and greenery, so it’s like you are sitting in a jungle.  So before I catch the chicken bus back, I decide to use the most beautiful bathroom in Guatemala and I finally sit down on the most beautiful toilet, and look down to my right, and there is a doggy there, looking up at me.  And I squeal,  just due to surprise. He just lays there and is timid, and then I see that he is missing a leg.  OMG…. the poor thing… but he is just so sweet, so while I am sitting on the most beautiful toilet in Guatemala, I find my camera and take his picture…

oh,, and I did buy the skin cream, cause it’s supposed to get rid of my wrinkles… yes a very good morning.

Oct 22 Meeting with the Spina Bifida Assoc

24 Oct

I was invited to meet with the Director, the Psychologist/Therapist and the Medical Director of the Spina Bifida Association of Guatemala.  This was through the man who is on the board of the Association and came to Hope Haven, the first day I was in Guatemala.  He told the Association about me and they wanted to meet to discuss and exchange ideas on rehabilitation of the disorder.

They sent a car to take me the hour 1/2 ride from Antigua to Guatemala city. There I met Lucky Velasquez, the Director, a women named Anna Maria de Chiuitara who is a therapist and a psychologist and Dr. Pedro Chavez Castillo the medical director.  We basically just had lunch and talked for two hours about the problems and evidenced based treatments.  It seems that Guatemala has one of the highest rates of Spina Bifida in the world.  This is due to malnutrition and some think a mold that can get on the corn that prevents the absorption of folic acid.  If pregnant women lack this folic acid, it causes neural tube defects.

We found that we agreed on many of the treatment approaches but many families don’t avail themselves of the therapies offered by the association.  They either don’t value or understand the issues, or think their child will get better with prayer.  Ignorance and education of the families is the primary obstacle here.  They asked me what the US does for prevention and I mentioned the March of Dimes and vitamins if a woman is sexually active and might get pregnant.

Again, I’m very impressed by the organization, but empathetic with the problems they face to prevent and help those with Spina Bifida.  The website for the Guatemalan Spina Bifida Association is

Oct 21 Another Wheelchair Distribution

24 Oct

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Today, we had 10 children scheduled to receive wheelchairs, but by the time they arrived, we hear that there are 3 more added on.  Two of them adult women.  This group of individuals came from the northern most part of Guatemala called Alta Verapaz and were brought in a big van by a group called Paz y Bien.  This is a Guatemalan social organization that helps the disabled, so there were three social workers with this group as well.  Now these poor people had to get up at 3 in the morning to take the Van all the way to Antigua so that they would arrive around 9 AM.

I am the only Therapist there today, so we bring them all in and set them in three different locations, and I have teams of two workers each  and I start Gustavo with the most difficult case, and easier cases with the other teams. One of the girls has spina bifida and she just watches all of the workers in their wheelchairs and is amazed at how capable they are.  One of the grown women is a dwarf, and can no longer walk.  She has an adult sized head and body, but her legs and arms are very deformed, so she was also difficult to fit.  We had to cut the footrests really short and weld them.

Eventually we found enough parts to put together four adult chairs, and were able to fit all of the other 8 children.  But today was trying in that, these kids had traveled a long way and many were unhappy and cried.  So there was a lot of noise.

We finished again around 2:30 and made sure everyone was fed, had coffee, went to the bathroom (there is one in the shop).  They then loaded all of the wheelchairs on top of the van for the long ride home.  The families were tired but happy and would proabably arrive home at 9 pm tonight.