Mayra Eliza Gomez is a 36-year-old Guatemalan. She had an accident and has been a wheelchair user for the last 16 years.
An estimated 170,000 Guatemalans live with a disability and need a wheelchair but are unable to obtain one on their own. Without mobility, these individuals often depend on someone to carry them or are forced to crawl.
Free Wheelchair Mission (FWM) – a global humanitarian non-profit organisation that designs and manufactures wheelchairs at no charge for people with disabilities living in under-resourced nations – responds to this need in partnership with four other nonprofits: Faith In Practice (FIP), Food For The Poor (FFTP), Hope Haven (HH), and Operation Blessing (OB). Along with a network of sub-distribution partners, this collaboration has provided 23,656 wheelchairs to the people of Guatemala since 2005.
Mayra lives at Colonias las Marias in Patulul in Guatemala, at a humble colony of neighbors who were displaced to new homes donated by the efforts of Rotary clubs and friends – five years ago there was a storm that completely destroyed the area where they lived.
When Mayra was 20, she suffered a spinal cord injury in an accident involving a “chicken bus” – one of the retired American school buses, repainted in vivid colours and repurposed for affordable mass transportation in Guatemala. These old buses are often dangerously overloaded with passengers, like chickens in a coop; hence, the moniker.
Mayra lives with a disability, but she does not have a caregiver: rather, she is the one providing care for her entire family, including her eight children and one grandchild. Her husband is rarely home. She had been supporting the family by selling cosmetics, but two weeks before she gave birth to her eighth child, she was visiting clients when her wheelchair broke down.
With barely enough resources to put food on the table for the family, buying a replacement wheelchair, even a used one, was out of the question for Mayra. Thankfully, Free Wheelchair Mission – through money donated by generous organizations and individuals – was able to step in and gift Mayra with a brand new GEN_3 wheelchair that folds to make it easier to bring onto public transportation. The mountain bike tires help her traverse the steep, rocky terrain around her house and can easily be repaired or replaced at any local bike shop.
Mayra expressed deep gratitude for this gift, which will allow her to resume working and be more efficient in managing her household responsibilities.
Since 2001, FWM has distributed more than one million wheelchairs, and their big ambition is to provide another million wheelchairs by 2025. To achieve this goal, they have partnered with Invacare Europe in a project called Together, for mobility. As part of the project, Invacare Europe is helping FWM by raising awareness, generating donations, and sharing knowledge and expertise about product development.
Invacare Europe is working with Free Wheelchair Mission to provide free wheelchairs for thousands more people like Mayra, because improving the quality of people’s lives and “making life experiences possible” is Invacare’s primary mission.