Seven young adults and children, who can’t walk, use their hands, or even language. Their bodies are twisted, stiff, and must be strapped or tied into wheelchairs. Two of the seven have limited language skills that can only be understood by the familiar and the schooled. In addition, we have five little ones. An autistic boy who, the previous day, spent three hours looking through the water of a glass bottle; a boy without speech who is prone to wander; a partly deaf child who must use a walker; a ten year old whose birthday we are celebrating, and a sweet little three year old.
We are their caretakers for this adventure: Six adults and eight students.
The bus arrives and each person in his wheelchair, one by one, is pulled up to the bus. We unstrap each child. Kiersten bear hugs a torso and a volunteer carries legs. We lift him or her into a place on the bus—five seats across and five rows deep. In between, a little child, a volunteer is sent to sit on the bus. There are no working seatbelts in this country, and children are lapped when small enough. Our destination is the special needs park, a half hour away. I'm excited, though apprehensive for this experience.
A truck will transport the wheelchairs. The older gentlemen watch as I do, as we unload and load, in absolute awe and amusement. First, that we would even dare try. Second, that we would execute such a plan. Third, that we actually do. That the men are able to stack all the wheelchairs into a small truck bed is a marvel too. Yet another South American marvel.
When we are almost there…the rain begins. Besides the obvious risks already, getting caught in a rainstorm is one we cannot take. There is no possible way to fulfill the task of fast in the special needs traveling team. A diversion is planned: the Mall Del Rio.
Oh…instant disappointment, but we carry on. No other choice exists. The whole process of moving special needs people starts over again.
When we roll into the mall, Lucy is my charge. At the orphanage, she frequently breaks into wails and spasms when she wants to be pushed around the compound. Her sport is pushing against anything solid, including the volunteers who are willing to hold her legs and help her move back and forth, back and forth. Today, She is content in her new surroundings.
How strange it is to be on the other side. All my life, I have been the observer when special needs groups have moved about--at the bus stop, in the grocery store, in the mall. It has always been an oddity, as they navigate the tasks I take for granted. But now, I am the one who is conscious of the stares, at the looks of kindness and even pity. How I wonder if our children are aware, and hope they don't recognize what I can.
When our visit is over, we again wait beside the bus, wait for our turn. Each child is loaded. It is still a marvel.
The rain is coming down hard when we reach the orphanage, and the process takes on a greater sense of urgency. These children could be soaked in seconds without he capability to run for shelter, pull of wet clothes and grab a towel. They will be at the mercy of a volunteer who will struggle to make them comfortable. I stand with an umbrella hoping to protect Kiersten, the volunteer, and the wheelchair bound child. I still marvel at the process, but as we execute the same plan for the fourth time, I am more confident. After all, this is the last time and we are home.
We walk away with few words to describe what happened, but we have learned what we can accomplish with focus, team work, and a goal to bring variety and fun to a group of kids who can't bring it to themselves. We walk away with joy.