As some of you know, I have done a little to promote accessibilityÂ in Mexico with a link to Isla Aguada hotel and RV park run by a quadriplegic and dedicated to people with physical disabilities. I also write about whether hotels I review are truly accessible or blowing smoke (most are). It is not much, but I try. Someday, I hope to have a page about accessible Mexico. I wrote a chapter about the trials and triumphs of Mexican people with physical disabilities in Modern Mexico Through the Eyes of Modern Mexicans.
Today I read about Richard St. Dennis and World Access Project on CNN. Richard, himself in a chair, lives in Mexico state and has been running aÂ project for years to provide wheelchairs, walkers, crutches and canes to those who cannot afford them. They used to rely on donated wheelchairs from the USA, but the cost was about $200 to refurbish and transport them, plus (as I learned 20 years ago when I first became mildly altruistic), getting donated good through Mexican customsÂ is a little challenging, to put it politely.Â
I am speaking for myself here, not Richard. My own experiences in getting humanitarian shipments through customs often meant long delays and sometimes mysterious shortages. Â Many moons ago, I met Stan Brock, formerly the alligator-riding, grizzly-bear tackling co-star of Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom. I, and every young boy with a TV set,Â wanted to be Stan when we grew up. Sadly, I never wrestled an alligator or tackled a grizzly. I did fight a couple of bulls once, and that was disaster enough. Ah, but here I go, digressing.
Back then, Stan was taking a semi-truck filled with medicines to the Huichol Indians and in those pre-Internet days, had heard of my connection with them. Stan stopped in McAllen and we became friends. Later in Nayarit, I introduced him to a Wall Street Journal reporter who was doing a story on me. It felt nice to do something good for others. Today Stan is still going strong out of Knoxville, TN and operates Remote Area Medical, providing humanitarian aid to people in the USA and other countries. He recently opened a free medical clinics in Nashville,Â Los Angeles, New Orleans after Katrina and other places here jn the USA. Â StanÂ still looks about the same as when I saw him, so being a philanthropist must agree with him. Meeting Stan was one of the highlights of my life, long ago.
Alas, but as usual, I digress again. Richard St. Dennis now livesÂ near Atlacomulco, Mexico. He found a company in Mexico that makes good quality, rugged wheelchairs. With these he can help more people than he could with donationsÂ from the USA. His organization, World Access ProjectÂ Â has regular events throughout Mexico to promote awareness and raise money.
I will put up a page on my site to link directly to him, but if any of you are overwhelmed with generosity right away, you can make donations right on their site. And, if any of you drivers to Mexico want to throw in a wheelchair per person, you won't have trouble with customs and could bring it on down to them. I personally love Mexico state (though it can be chilly) and there is a magnificent old-growth forest with a park at Parque Nacional El Ocotol, not far from the headquarters of World Access Project.
You know what?Â The most important thing any one of us can do is to look at people with disabilities as people. Before I actually met and talked to a few people who traveled Mexico in their vans and RV's who depended on wheelchairs to get around, I was just as insensitive as most people. I looked through the person in the chair. I looked down on himÂ when talking to hmÂ rather than getting down to hisÂ level and being equal.
I've seen very nice tourists turn into the ugliest Americans when meeting a person with a disabilityÂ in Mexico. What if that was your son or daughter, mother or brother? It could be. All it takes is an auto accident, or a slip on the cobblestone streets of San Miguel de Allende or a surfboard gone wild at Pto. Escondido.
So, yes, donate money to World Access Project. But remember that every person you meet in Mexico thinks you ARE the USA. Treat everyone as you would like to be treated. Go visit World Access if you can.
They do notÂ just provide wheelchairs and then walk away. TheyÂ provide a way of life to people who had none before. They teach people with disabilities how to live, how to be productive members of society, and most importantly how to have hope. They teach them to live with self-respect. Visit their web site and read and see the video.
The people at World Access Project are not just aboutÂ wheelchairs. They areÂ about peoples' lives. They are about dignity. They are about you and me and every one of us. It's not about us and them. It's just us in this world.