| kham aid home | Wheelchairs
on the way (Oct, 2000)
Status report (July, 2000) | Distribution in Danba (Nov, 2000) | What we spent (Dec, 2000)
Wheelchair Program in its Second Year (Sept, 2001)
4 Nov 2000
"This way. Come this way. The handicapped person is here," said our guide, an official from the Kangding County Federation of Disabled Persons. We left the bustling street market of Xinduqiao and entered into a dim, narrow passage between two buildings. After twenty paces, it bent right, then opened up to a garbage-strewn yard. Here I saw a Tibetan woman standing to one side, holding back a snarling black dog. She motioned me not to stop. I went forward, then saw that the official had turned right again, through an opening in a crude fence made of wood scraps. Immediately I was confronted by a small timber dwelling, squeezed into a tiny corner of this motley neighborhood.
|Jing Xiaoyong in his new wheelchair. His mother is at left, their home is in the background.|
The Tibetan woman, a matronly sort of about fifty, left the dog and caught up to us. She motioned us inside. "He's in bed," she told us, and led us to a small room in the rear.
It was very dark inside. When my eyes adjusted, I could make out the face of our "customer." He was in bed, lying on his side, two thirds covered with a blanket. His hair was cropped short, and his face was the palest I've ever seen on a Tibetan. He was sucking on one finger. Despite the sudden intrusion of a gang of strangers, he didn't move. He looked at up me with innocent, uncomprehending eyes.
"Can he stand up?" asked David Richard, director of Wheels for Humanity, one of our partners in this project. "Not very well," replied his mother through an interpreter. We asked to see him try, but it transpired that the young man, whose name was Jing Xiaoyong, was not wearing any pants. There was a delay while the female team members went outside, so Jing's mother could put pants on him.
She told us that he was 25 years old, but it seemed to me that he had the mental and physical abilities of a baby. The cause was a terrible fever he suffered when he was only four days old. His father had died, leaving the poor mom to care for Jing Xiaoyong alone. Clearly, they didn't have much money. He outweighed his mother, so there wasn't much she could do with him except care for him in bed.
David asked our host, Mr. Li, to pull an 18" wheelchair from the truck. Seating Jing was straightforward because he had no broken bones or other physical problems needing special adjustments. David and Li took up positions on either side of him, and with a bit of help from Jing himself, they transferred him from bed to chair.
Jing looked wondrous, as if he had suddenly been beamed to never dreamt-of world. David explained
to his mother how to lock and unlock the wheels, and the procedure for pulling the chair over rough ground. When David tilted the chair backward to go over the door sill, Jing broke out in a huge grin. He loved it! After 25 years in bed, a tilted chair was like a roller coaster for him.
When we were done, Jing's mother said, "Stay awhile, have some tea!" But we explained we had miles left to go today, so there was no time. She followed us outside. Grasping David's hand, she said, "Thank you, thank you, thank you! I never knew such people could exist, could do such a great thing for us!" Tears began gushing from her eyes and she repeated her words, "Thank you! You've done such a great thing for us! I never thought...I never expected...!" She bent down and tried to prostrate in the dust, but we grabbed her by the arms and pulled her up.
Tears were in my eyes as I walked back to the car. Something that David had said earlier--about what a wheelchair means not just to the disabled person, but also to the person's family--was now hitting home.
Jing's story is just one of dozens. As I write this, our team has seated forty-seven needy disabled people in brand new, donated wheelchairs. Another 43 chairs will be delivered by local officials to individuals who live in remote areas. We have also sent chairs to two other minority nationality prefectures, and to some poor rural areas of eastern Sichuan. We have seated half a dozen children who were identified by the Holy Love Foundation in Chengdu. The total number of chairs is 240, but the project goes far beyond numbers. In the nine days we've been working here, we've heard so many heart-breaking stories, and seen lives literally transformed.
Everyone's favorite was 7-year-old Dawa Zambo, who suffered spinal cord damage in an accident when we was three, and has been paraplegic ever since. We put him into a 12-inch chair, and gave him a stuffed animal from the sack of toys brought by Judy McCalla, one team member. As his chair was adjusted, he sat clutching the soft toy, kissing it again and again.
There was 65-year-old Gonga Nyima, in Tagong. His knee was injured in a gun-powder explosion when he was 20 years old, and now he's in constant pain, which he treats with Western and Tibetan medicine. But the pain confined him to a stool in the door way of his house, from which he looked out upon a very limited world. In his new wheelchair, he can go out and visit friends. I'll always remember how, when we took his official photo, his entire extended family, about ten people, stood by his side.
There was Tseten, 28 years old, who was in a car crash at the age of 6, and had to have both legs amputated below the knee. Four years later, both his parents died, leaving him orphaned. He is cared for by monks at Chiru Gonpa. When I first saw him in Waze, he was making his way painfully across the yard, walking on his two bent stumps. Now he can glide.
Unlike most of our recipients, who were quiet and passive, Zhang Dongwen had something to say. In fact, he had a lot to say. He is 70 years old, a Tibetan living in Dawu. Before he would let us put him in a chair, he made a formal speech in a funny high warbling voice: "You have come so far to this remote place to help us. On behalf of disabled people here, I thank you. For disabled people, self-sufficiency is really important. We want to take part in the opening and development of this area. I promise to do my best to take advantage of this gift."
There was Yama Pasang, 68, victim of a stroke 15 years ago. His left side is paralyzed. When we transferred him to his new chair, he broke out into a million dollar smile, and used his right hand to give the thumbs-up signal...and he kept on giving it, for fifteen solid minutes while we took turns having our photo taken with him.
Penba Tsetru, 37, had been a soldier. He lost his left leg to a land mine during a 1985 war between China and Vietnam. When we heard this, we were surprised because only one of us even knew about that conflict, for it is one of the 20th century's most forgotten wars. It's both amazing and tragic to imagine a Tibetan fighting in an alien jungle so far from his home.
Deng Zhu, 60, is a tailor by trade; he lives and works in his own small shop. He was sent to Nyimtso Monastery at a tender age, and contracted polio a few years later at age 6, which left him unable to walk. Although he wears no robes and lives outside the monastery, he still considers himself a monk. We liked him so much we visited his shop the next day. There we saw the beautiful brocade Tibetan clothing he makes, and David Richard had his jacket mended. Deng is considered the best tailor in town.
Perhaps the saddest case was 81-year-old Liu Xiuzheng, in Guza Town, Kangding County. Fifty-one years ago she received a savage beating from her brother. Both her legs were broken, and her collarbone and ankle, and they never fully healed. When they brought her to us, she used two canes, and had to be supported on both sides as she shambled painfully along.
And more, and more, and more. The most common causes of disability were accident, stroke, and acute childhood illness, especially polio. (All of the polio cases we encountered were in Dawu County. China has a vaccination program for polio but it apparently is not reaching everyone in remote rural areas). Probably half of the disabilities we encountered could have been prevented or cured if the person had been in the West.
In this work we were joined by staff of the Ganzi County Federation of Disabled Persons, and a gang of more helpful, more eager workers cannot be imagined. They learned to gauge the size of chair needed to fit an individual, how to adjust it and add Velcro leg retainers if needed, how to transfer the disabled person into a chair, and how to brief family members on safe operation, especially use of those all-important wheel-locks.
This program will continue next year, with more chairs, some donated hospital equipment and an even larger team. We're seeking volunteer doctors, seating specialists, physical therapists, and occupational therapists to join us; translators are also needed.
If you have a new or used wheelchair you'd like to donate, please contact Wheels for Humanity. We're also badly in need of cash contributions to keep this great program afloat.
Thanks and Tashi Delek from all of us in the Kham Aid Foundation wheelchair program.
President, Kham Aid Foundation