We arrived in a dusty bus in the smallest village on our recent Wheelchair Distribution in Peru. There was a group of nearly a hundred people assembled in the small city cobblestone central square, most seated on plastic stackable chairs. A canvas awning covered the people, proudly displaying a welcome sign from the Municipalidad Distrital De Vinchos.
We were told by a Rotarian interpreter that this was the poorest district in the Peru highlands. The citizen’s primary source of income was agriculture, scraping a living from the terraced mountainside, often by hand as it had been done for thousands of years before. Even the most common language, Spanish, was not freely spoken – instead the native language of Peru, Ketchwa, was used.
Assembled under the tent, in front of a rickety stage were a people who were excited – anticipating something most had never had before. First came the formal presentations of local dignitaries and Rotarians, along with very kind words for the Chair the Love representatives. This presentation included dances with young women dressed in beautiful native attire, and a musical rendition from two elderly women who sang with such passion and thankfulness, that we didn’t need to know the words to sense their joy.
Having been on many previous wheelchair distributions in many countries, I had been blessed with receiving mayoral proclamations, plaques, statues, native handiwork, and yes, on this trip even a key to the city. This time it was different. Each of us in the distribution was awarded a handmade basket, simple by most standards – yet it was the most memorable gift I had received. In the basket, woven by dirt-stained hands, was the overflowing fruits of their daily labor – a mixture of colorful and unusually shaped potatoes. The presenter’s eyes were brimming with tears of thankfulness, with no idea of how their generosity touched each of us.
We soon went about our work, unboxing and assembling bright red chairs emblazoned with the Chair the Love logo on the back. Twenty-nine wheelchairs were to be distributed that day – including a special chair for a beautiful young lady who needed more support and restraints than a normal chair provided. We worked with the native villagers, as we often do, as they were eager to assist us to show how much they appreciated what our donors had done for them.
Most of the time, once the wheelchairs are received, there are thanks, hugs and the families leave one by one – this was different, no one wanted to leave. The moment was too great for the new chair owners, their families, and certainly for us.
That day in Vinchos was not just another day for any of us, it was a simple swap of a brand-new life –exchanging wheelchairs for a hand-made basket full of colorful potatoes. I’d say we call it even.