Rotarians roll out gift for Mexico’s needy

Travelling through areas of Mexico, sometimes on what could generously be described as roads, Neil Swensrude and a group of volunteers rolled out 490 wheelchairs throughout the Central American nation.

Travelling through areas of Mexico, sometimes on what could generously be described as roads, Neil Swensrude and a group of volunteers rolled out 490 wheelchairs throughout the Central American nation.

The program, which is run by the Red Deer East and Sylvan Lake Rotary Clubs, is now in its 10th year and has provided 2,436 wheelchairs to countries including Belize, Cuba, South Africa, Ukraine and the Philippines.

Swensrude, the project co-chair, said they received a lot of community interest and this was their eighth wheelchair distribution.

A total of 29 people — Rotarians, family members and friends — spent two weeks distributing the wheelchairs at six different locations in Mexico ranging from towns such as Huatulco to small mountain villages such as San Felipe.

“That was about a six-hour journey on not much of a road,” said Swensrude.

“We even had to get out of the van on one occasion and walk around a curve because there was only about four inches left for the tire before it would go over a cliff.”

The 25- to 30-km trip took three hours complete.

They went to several other locations as well to deliver the new wheelchairs, which cost $150 each.

Swensrude said the group would go into the centre of the various communities, dressed in bright red Team Canada hockey jerseys and distribute the wheelchairs.

“You see 29 of those (Canada jerseys) it attracts attention from all the communities, towns, media, civic dignitaries because it is a major project,” said Swensrude.

When they go to the communities, Swensrude said many of the wheelchair recipients come in for their wheelchairs on the back of a truck, crawl in, are carried in or come in by ambulance.

Even those who can’t come in will have the social service agency go out to their home and deliver the wheelchair.

Rotarians from several different clubs worked together to raise $60,000 in a 12-week period for the trip.

The clubs involved include Red Deer East, Sylvan Lake, Okotoks, High River, Rocky Mountain House, Lacombe Daybreak, Red Deer Centennial and Northbrook, Illinois, as well as the Huatulco club.

Swensrude credited the success of the campaign over the past 10 years in part due to the level of public awareness through media.

“We open it up to everybody,” said Swensrude.

“Not only to everybody to make a contribution, we like to open it up to everybody to participate in the experience. It inspires people simply to do more because they can have the opportunity of seeing what happens.”

He said seeing those get the wheelchairs, the young child, the elderly, a person without legs is a great experience.

“They not only see them, they actually lift them into the wheelchair,” said Swensrude.

mcrawford@bprda.wpengine.com