It was a sleepy drive back from the beach. Myself and six other volunteers were traveling with the Vice Prefecta (a government official) of the Guayas province, to meet with the President of the town of Posorja. We were going to meet about the issues surrounding Posorja, mainly the problems and promise of its development as a growing seaport. On the way to Posorja, we stopped at the beach for lunch and my mind was still lingering on shrimp, ceviche and plantains.
I was with Myrna McNitt of Dominican University and Margarita Ochoa, member of our affiliate group in Ecuador, Causas para el Camibo. Our car had lagged behind the others and we finally realized we had taken a wrong turn.
A young boy was walking along the hot dirt road dragging a plastic toy tricycle. And next to him, in the dirt something was flopping along like a penguin on its belly. It took a moment for my mind to process the scene. I realized it wasn’t an animal, but another little boy, with no legs, dragging himself down the hot dirt road with his bare hands. I closed my eyes and shook my head. “Margarita,” I said, opening my eyes, “turn the car around. Let’s go back.”
When the car stopped, I opened the door and spoke to the little boy on the ground. I asked him his name. He smiled and said it was Pablito. They were on their way home from school. Talking with them, I soon found out that the broken tricycle they were dragging, functioned as a crude sort of wheelchair for Pablito. I asked if there was anything I could do to help fix it. Pablito replied that there was a repair shop down the road.
After making him promise not to spend it on candy, I gave him five dollars to cover the repairs. With his permission, I took a picture of him and his friend (it turns out it was actually his uncle, by an odd coincidence of through marriage). I told him that I hoped to see him again and said goodbye. He smiled and waved. It was that smile that would haunt me many months later.
We eventually made our way back to main road and arrived at the office of the President of Posorja. We shared our encounter and asked if anyone in the office had encountered Pablito. Many had seen him from time to time, but no one really knew much about him.
After the trip, back home in Chicago, I could not get Pablito out of my head. I knew I needed to do something, but I wasn’t sure just what. The last thing I wanted was to turn Pablito into a poster child for Causes for Change, but I knew he needed help. Despite my misgivings, I started talking about Pablito. I showed his picture to an orthopedic surgeon and asked for a quote on a pair of prosthetic legs. The surgeon frowned and said “Seventy-five thousand, maybe more”.
And so I gave up… for about a week. After that, Pablito’s smile returned to me. I could still hear the strength and the life in his voice. I could still remember his fearless determination as he dragged himself down the dirt road. Didn’t Pablito deserve better?
So, I got over myself and started emailing some old friends. My friend, Dr. Mark Kovic an Occupational Therapist of Midwestern University was attending a conference in Philadelphia, where he met Fred Sammons of Ambucs.org. Mark put me in touch with Fred, who designs AmTrykes (Tryke for short), a hand-pedaled tricycle specifically designed for persons with disabilities. As luck would have it, a Tryke had just been returned to him. Fred Sammons said, “I’d have to pull some strings, but you can have it. The only problem is, there’s no seat.” Fate must have intervened for Pablito. The next week, another Tryke was returned, with a seat that fit Pablito’s Tryke. Pablito’s new ride was ready to rock.
Through the Maanaki foundation, I was introduced to David Krupa of ROMP (Range of Motion Project). ROMP makes prosthetics for those who normally could not afford them, in underserved communities. ROMP has a center in Guatemala where they make the prosthetics, which is where David works. David contacted his friends at the U of I at Chicago and in conversation with the Maanaki Foundation, we began the process of creating prosthetic legs for Pablito.
The next step was to get whatever parts were needed. A grant was provided by Manaaki Foundation covered the costs for parts that could not be obtained by donation. During the mission trip in 2011, I was able to deliver the parts to David. An appointment was made with Pablito and his parents in Quito, to be seen by David.
We delivered the Tryke to Pablito, in June 2011. A few weeks later, Pablito was fitted with his prosthesis and began the process of learning to walk. David sent me a report on his progress:
His first day of practice last Friday, was inspirational (to say the least). I will see him again next Friday. That first day of fittings he was able to walk in the parallel bars, kick a balloon around, and stand hands free (clapping and smiling). He is so fun to work with!
His world is now transformed and he can explore life to his fullest potential. His parents, not knowing how to express their gratitude, brought shrimp ceviche to the volunteer team. By one of those odd coincidences of life, our story that started with shrimp and ceviche had come full circle. He is the happiest child in the world, thanks to all our friends. I feel truly blessed to have been one of the many agents of change, working to give Pablito a better life and a better future.