On our first full day in Belize, the day started out very wet. The team stayed at the Hearts of Christ mission and started organizing supplies and cleaning equipment that had been shipped. Korie and some of the guys went to buy lumber and materials for the first ramp that would be built. After lunch, the rain stopped and we all loaded up and headed to the work site.
The first ramp was for a family with several children, one of whom has Cerebral Palsy. Ciara is almost 10 years old and has a smile that lights up her face. We met her mom, Kimone, and her cousin Taylor and baby brother Will. Their house was up on stilts, so the ramp needed to be “double decker” with a landing in between. The building team had put together the larger pieces before we went to the site, so they got to work building the framework and finishing out the ramps.
While the building team worked, others on the A-L team walked around the village neighborhood to hand out hygiene packs and candy to the children and families who were walking home from school. The activity attracted a lot of attention and one family came by asking for some kind of chair for their son, Wilson, who was born with deformities in all four limbs. Leanne and John had gone back to the Hearts of Christ mission to get a chair for Ciara and at the last minute decided to put a mobility stroller in the van to see if Ciara could use it. When they got back to the job site, Wilson and his family were there and it was very evident that God had intended the mobility stroller to go to him.
Doug’s morning devotion had reminded us that God is with us and goes before us, so this was affirmation that God was at work and had gone before us to help us to be prepared for the families we met that day.
The plan for the day was to build two ramps for families who live not too far from Roaring Creek Village. Our team was divided up to send some out to build and to leave others at Hearts of Christ to clean and sort and organize medical equipment and supplies.
The first ramp of the day was for Ms. Sonia, a woman who had one of her legs amputated below the knee last October. She was surprised when we drove up, as she didn’t know what day we were coming. We also were able to give her a motorized wheelchair to help her to get around.
One serendipity was that while I was inside meeting Ms. Sonia, the building crew removed the stairs. Instead of jumping down 5 feet into mud, I stayed inside and visited with Ms. Sonia for a couple of hours while her ramp was being built. It was a sweet time to learn some of Ms. Sonia's story and to hear about her family who lives close by.
Several of Ms. Sonia’s siblings live nearby on their family ranch, so our team was also able to meet them and see about some of their needs. One brother, Roy, needed colostomy supplies, and one of the sisters, Matilda, has stage four cancer and was blessed to receive a scripture blanket and a wooded cross carved with the words, “Amazing Grace.” Our team was blessed by all of the interactions with Ms. Sonia and her family.
The second ramp was built for Ms. Laverne, a woman suffering from arthritis in her knees and arms. She needed a ramp to get out of her house and we also were able to give her a motorized wheelchair. Her daughters, Desiree and Haley and son, Leon, were thankful that we could help their mom. The family was also blessed to receive a scripture blanket and a wooden cross.
Our team stayed at Hearts of Christ to clean and organize equipment and get supplies ready for the Expo. One of our team members, Norm, had an accident while working on a flat tire on a trailer, smashing his thumb pretty badly. He was taken to the ER and thankfully they could bandage it up, but the injury was significant enough that Norm and his wife, Nancy, decided they should go home the next day. Rick and Korie were also able to take some other vehicles to get tires fixed on Thursday and we got the trailers loaded up with all of the equipment and supplies to take to San Ignacio on Friday.
One family had made arrangements to bring their daughter, Jesilyn, to the Hearts of Christ mission to see about getting her a chair. John worked on a chair for and when it was ready, he got it adjusted just right for the little girl. While all of that was going on, several team members were cleaning other mobility equipment to get it ready to take the the Expo. I was helping with that for a few minutes and noticed that Sharyn was cleaning a pediatric walker/gait trainer and commented how small it was. After Jesilyn was fitted for her chair, John said that they had something else that the family could use. They brought in that exact pediatric walker and it was a perfect fit for Jesilyn. It was a joy to see how God once again had gone before us and knew that we could give away that piece of equipment to help Jesilyn gain greater mobility.
Friday morning we drove to San Ignacio to check out the Expo site at Sacred Heart College in the gymnasium. While we were there, we found out that we were going to be able to set up for the Expo that day (we were originally told that they had an event there that night that would prevent us setting up early). After lunch and a visit to the nursing home, we unloaded the trailers and got the different areas set up for Saturday. Everyone was excited that we wouldn't have to leave as early on Saturday morning to get to San Ignacio!
Our visit to Octavia Waight Home was a sweet time for our team. We gave each resident a scripture blanket and a Bible, and also donated some medical supplies and hygiene kits. One of the Hearts of Christ team members, Deb, played the piano and sang hymns and we all joined in. Afterward, Deb told the team that she had almost completely lost her voice and had not been able to sing for a couple of years. After getting some treatment, her voice was healing and she was happy to have been able to sing for the residents. The residents enjoyed the singing and appreciated our visit with them. It was wonderful to see some friends we had met in 2016, as well as Susanna, the director. Some of our team also met a nurse who does a lot of physical therapy for the residents. She was encouraged by our team's visit and was excited to receive the supplies we brought.
On Saturday morning, we drove back to San Ignacio for the Expo. As we drove up, we saw that people had already started to arrive, several hours ahead of the announced start time. As we finished getting everything set up, more people came and by the 10:00 start time, we had a line of people waiting to get in, mostly to see if there was any equipment that we could give to them. We had lots of activities available for the participants, from painting to games and adaptive fitness to crafts and face painting. We also offered a prayer and care booth and a photo booth.
At the art booth, Beth, Carolyn and Sheila were able to help many children and adults to paint, some for the first time in their lives. Especially some of the adults were reluctant to paint, thinking that they were creative or artistic. After they tried it, they found that it was very relaxing and that it was something that they could do. One man named Antonio came to the art booth in a power chair, unable to use his arms. His caregiver and Beth were able to assist him in writing his name and then painting "God is good" on the paper. He told Beth that this was the first time that he had been able to use his hand in over a year and it had given him hope. Another boy named Edwin, who had a shriveled hand, came to paint and his friend and Sheila were able to help him to paint. Afterward, they helped him to toss the football and when he was able to do it, they all did a "happy dance."
Sharyn, Mike and Jimmy enjoyed their time at the adaptive fitness booth, helping people learn to do ladder drills and use the battle ropes, and teaching them how they could do exercises at home. Jimmy and Mike were able to visit with a man who was a double amputee and a soldier who was wounded in Guyana. Both of the men they met were encouraged to meet some people who lived with disabilites and were able to be active. They also met Jalen and Jaden, twin brothers who were in power chairs. They were students at the college and were both excited that we had come to do the Expo there.
On the medical equipment side of the gym, John, Lisa, Ashley, Cindy, Helen, Janet, Dave, Rick, and Korie were kept busy throughout the Expo with trying to match people with equipment that would best meet their needs. It took a lot of adjustment and fitting to make things work for each person. Some who came were not able to get exactly what they wanted, but everyone got was was best for their situation and need. We also had a lot of equipment that had been donated that was very intensive and user-specific or needed a therapist to assist with it. God sent a man named Juan who is one of only four or five physical therapists in Belize. He is starting some therapy facilities and needed equipment to get it up and running. He plans to treat children free of charge and we were able to give him several pieces of equipment that he can use for therapy, as well as some mats and adaptive fitness equipment.
A large group of disabled people came from Belize City and they had to take taxis and a bus to get to San Ignacio, but God provided for them to get there and we were able to give all of them medical supplies and equipment that they could use. Other families brought children with cognitive disabilities who were able to enjoy the activities and get resources. Over 250 people attended the Expo (including volunteers), making it a larger turn out than the two previous years in Roaring Creek Village. All of the chairs were given away, including some that were traded in that day.
After the Expo was over and we got things loaded up, we headed back to Hearts of Christ. On the way, we stopped to see Eli, a parapalegic man we had met last year and built a ramp for his home. Eli is interested in cycling and Mike had brought a hand cycle to give to him. Eli was surprised to see the group and was happy to meet Mike and Jimmy and to see Doug again. The guys were able to give Eli some words of encouragement and we had a prayer time for Eli. Jimmy later shared with the group that he had been tempted to just stay in the van and let the others visit with Eli, but God had prompted him to get out and meet Eli. Jimmy was thankful that he had obeyed God's leading and was inspired and encouraged by their time together.
As many of the team expressed in our debriefing time, the interactions we had at the Expo and all week long were not always easy and the people we met lived in some difficult conditions and circumstances. Over and over again, we saw that people had a resilient and grateful spirit and were so appreciative that we had come to help them. We may never know the impact that we are having on others, but God is with us and with them and goes before us to prepare the way as we are obedient to Him.