by Carol Aun, Black Press
Abbotsford-Sumas Rotary Club members donated hundreds of wheelchairs in Guatemala and Antigua last month.
President-elect Mike Adkins, who was one of seven members from the club who participated in the trip, said he was overcome by emotion when he saw how the gift changed the lives of many.
“A lot of the people who received wheelchairs were physically and mentally handicapped,” said Adkins. “There was one man, who for 17 years, was lying on a mattress on the floor. When we gave him the wheelchair, he cried. It changed his life.”
The mother of a 13-year-old boy named Johnny had a translator tell Adkins, “You don’t know how much you’ve changed my life. This is the first time he can go to school.”
When someone touches their heart, the sign is universal.
“There’s so much sickness in Guatemala; it’s unbelievable,” said Adkins, noting many people don’t have running water to clean with or a stove to cook on.
“There is no middle class. There’s a small wealthy group but, mostly, people are poor.”
The local Rotary Club fundraised for four years to purchase 280 wheelchairs for the two countries. Support also came from Rotary Clubs in Sydney and Washington state, as well as a non-profit organization in Grand Forks.
The club also worked with its counterparts in Guatemala and Antigua to find recipients for the chairs.
The wheelchairs were distributed at a sports arena in Guatemala City with the help of the country’s First Lady. In Antigua, recipients met at a hospital to receive the gifts.
“It wasn’t really a hospital,” Adkins explained. “Everything was done by volunteers.”
Even the doctors were foreigners volunteering their time.
“It was a life-changing experience for me.”
It’s an experience Adkins would like to repeat. Seeing first-hand how the club’s efforts made a difference has pushed Adkins to work harder to help those in need.
“It totally overwhelms you,” said Adkins, who focuses on helping one person at a time. “We’ve already started fundraising for our next trip.”
The club donates a wheelchair on behalf of every guest speaker they host, and 28 per cent of the money raised throughout the year is also earmarked for international projects, said Adkins.
The club’s next fundraiser is the strawberry sale in June.
Watch for details closer to the date or find more information on the Abbotsford-Sumas Rotary Club’s Facebook page.