The original article in Outspoken! magazine talked about how this initiative started: In March 1996, Jose was injured in a work-place accident and temporarily needed a mobility aid. It was the first time he became aware of the needs of people with disabilities. In 2007, his friend Christopher, a local Canadian with a Cuban son-in-law, was talking to him about his charity work of sending donated wheelchairs to Cuba. It inspired Jose to do the same for his people in Peru. Christopher helped him started the project by providing the first wheelchair and 12 years later, his organization Purinapaq has reached more than 10,000 people across South America.
Last year, Christopher asked Jose to go with him to Cuba to help a local Cuban named Nika. Nika received his first power wheelchair 15 years ago, but it had run its course. After finding a donated wheelchair in Toronto, Christopher planned the trip and paid for all of Jose’s expenses. Upon meeting Nika, Jose learned that he was injured almost 20 years ago. The government has been good at providing physiotherapies to injured people, but when it comes to equipment and assistive devices, they only have manual wheelchairs with basic features. As someone with quadriplegia, Nika was bedridden for more than five years. Christopher’s first gift 15 years ago was game changing for Nika. Now that he saw his second wheelchair, he was over the moon! The following day, when Jose went back to Nika’s home to re-adjust and program the wheelchair, he saw dozens of empty rum bottles lying outside of the house. Apparently, the whole village was rejoicing over Nika’s new wheelchair. They had a ceremony to baptize the wheelchair. The festivity lasted past midnight.
After helping Nika and fixing a few other wheelchairs in the local area, Jose returned to Canada. But he quickly found out that he had forgotten a memory card at Nika’s home. It was the most vital piece that he needed to do all his work on power wheelchairs. There was no postal service in Nika’s area and getting him on the phone was already a chore that took a lot of creativity. Jose would have to return to Cuba to retrieve it himself. But a few days later, he found a better reason to go there.
A Cuban woman sent Jose a message over Facebook. She said that she read about Jose’s charity work in a magazine called Outspoken! The magazine was brought to Cuba by a Canadian tourist. It had an article about travelling to Cuba written by another member of SCIO. After the tourist returned home, he left the magazine in one of the places he had visited. By chance, the Cuban lady found the magazine and read about Jose’s article. She had a neighbour who desperately needed a wheelchair and she wondered if Jose could help. She sent him a picture of the young man named Reinier.
Based on the picture, finding a suitable wheelchair for Reinier was a challenge because his legs had a severe deformity and his physical condition was hard to assess by just looking at pictures of him. Jose replied, “Can you send me a picture of the wheelchair that he is using right now?” Reinier was using an old Invacare manual wheelchair with adapted footrest, which gave Jose an idea. After receiving a power wheelchair donation from a friend named Zvonko, Jose started to adapt it by building an extended footrest similar to Reiner’s manual wheelchair. A friend named Mila donated the batteries and another friend David offered to pay for part of Jose’s trip. With all of his supporters help, Jose returned to Cuba.
When Reinier sat on his first power wheelchair, he had this unceasing grin on his face. For the first time ever, he could wheel around independently. He made the bold statement that he would be going to the carnival this June with his girlfriend… whom he will soon meet. Jose was hoping to get the magazine back because he only had a few copies left, but Reinier refused because it was, “MINE!”
Since the article was shared on Facebook and other social media channels, Jose has received requests from Mongolia, Panama, Paraguay and other parts of the world. It has also attracted people who want to help him in his mission.
A woman named Karin reached out to Jose. She is a teacher in a small village in Peru. She has a 14-year-old student with Cerebral Palsy. When a Torontonian named Joseph was planning to go to the Amazon region Jose asked him if he could help transport the wheelchair to this boy in Peru.
When Joseph delivered the wheelchair to Karin’s student, he was overwhelmed with emotion. Shortly after his birth, the boy’s mom had abandoned him and he was brought up by his grandma. All his life, he had been crawling on the floor to get around; occasionally someone would lend him a manual wheelchair. And each weekday, his classmates had to put him in a wheelbarrow to get him to school. This experience opened Joseph’s eyes and his heart to people with disabilities especially the ones living in less privileged parts of the world.
In recent years, Jose has been helping people in Ontario as well. He works with the Veterans in Canadian Legions, newcomers to Canada and people in our SCI community. He connects SCIO with people who want to donate hospital beds, porch lifts, stair lifts or other equipment that they have no need for. He helps people with wheelchair repairs, especially the ones who need emergency service and the ones who have no benefit or insurance coverage. He also helps us transport donated equipment to people who have no means themselves, and as a final resort, he donates wheelchairs to people who have exhausted all other sources.
At this time, his organization is looking for a spacious facility to store his equipment and also be used as a repairing shop. In the past, Storage Mart has generously provided him three small units free of cost, but as of 2020, two of the units will no longer be available for free. If you would like to contribute to his cause, please contact him at 416-938-9311. Visit his website to read the original article and find out more about his good work at www.purinapaq.org.