It was going to be a small distribution, just 15 chairs. The main event was the dedication of a beautiful medical clinic called, Roberto Clemente III, just outside the gates of the Gran Pacifica resort in Via Del Mar, Nicaragua.
The small-town mayor makes a speech. The proper people are thanked and the names of the wheelchair recipients are read by a local Rotarian. After six such distributions over the past six years, I had become used to the line of people with crutches, walkers, and other crude conveyances, cueing up for the opportunity for mobility.
Then I spot Yada, sitting in our smallest wheelchair, stunningly beautiful in her flowered dress, her five-year-old face beaming. Her mother haltingly tells her story. Yada, it seems, has suffered all of her life with a heart condition that prevents her from walking more than a few steps without losing her breath. She has little energy and nods off frequently. Her lips and fingers were blue, a telltale sign of circulation problems. Without a wheelchair, there was little hope to get her to school, as she was too difficult to carry for her petite mother.
Now everything is changing. Her new wheelchair gives her the freedom to move when she can and rest when she cannot. Several of the staff members of Gran Pacifica have pledged to follow up with the mother over the next few weeks to help connect Yada with cardiac experts who can provide a good diagnosis and advocate further treatment.
Pamflio, a man who has one leg amputated and the other without several toes, had been living in a nearby village with his niece, becoming completely dependent on her for his daily living. For seven years he relied on crutches with immense pain. With his new red wheelchair to permit his independence, his caretaker can go back to work baking goods and earning a wage to give them both security.
At the clinic, the portable music system is turned up and the piñata is hung. The young boys, most wearing their baseball uniforms, take turns with blindfolded swings, the girls more interested in the falling candy. Fifteen red wheelchairs are loaded on pickup trucks, motorbikes, and a three-wheeled tuktuk.
Fifteen families’ lives are changed in one afternoon, and one memory remains, Yada.