Last month I was fortunate to be invited to the Handicap Foundation of Panama Boquete Chapter). This was a followup to my visiting Buenos Vecinos de Boquete in February.
The Handicap Foundation of Panama, as the name implies, focuses on the handicapped population. To get a real appreciation of the aid that is provided and to feel the sense of gratefulness from the clients, you really have to visit the site in Boquete.
I met Gail Cody at the Branding Iron restaurant and followed her to The Foundation’s Boquete Site. Following is a photo of the entrance.
The first thing I noticed upon entering was the distributions for Buenos Vecinos de Boquete.
BVB has been packing food at the Handicap center for about 4 years. It is convenient for the Handicap members to pick their food up when they come for their weekly meeting, Buenos Vecinos packs for 45 members currently. They represent over half of our clients. BVB appreciates having the use of their facility.
It is also easier for BVB to have the large volume of food delivered there and much better for packing. They buy in bulk so they get more food for our $$$.
Volunteers were helping in all sorts of activities. Here puzzles were being assembled.
I got to meet Rodny Moreno, who is the voice you talk to when you call 911 Alta al Crimen. Not only does he answer all calls, but he manages the resident database and contact list. Good English, Great Attitude and an inspiration to those of us that sometimes need push to help others.
I visited a room where clients were getting physical therapy. Many of the clients have more than one handicap. They may be blind and crippled. Human touch is very important for them to feel loved.
You will have to take my word for it, the young boy on the left had been waiting for this person to give him his therapy. When she started, he was overcome with laughter. You cannot be near a situation like this and feel no emotion. At least I can’t.
Two more clients of the Foundation.
I visited the kitchen. Family members are required to help in anyway they can. This is not a drop off babysitting site. Care and attention are provided for all, but participation is expected. There was a wood fire going outside and soon rice would start being cooked.
I got a photo of three of the honchos of The Boquete Foundation. Susan Peterson is on the right and she provided me a writeup on The Handicap Foundation. I am going to attach it at the end of this post.
The next two photos were taken in the language class for deaf people. In this class, the individuals are given the tools to function in a sound oriented world. Can you imagine the difficulty of learning a language without being able to hear?
To do this, they have to learn to sign and as they learn the sign, they also must lern how to write the word. In the next photo you see the instructor doing the instruction and she has an assistant that is writing the words on the board.
Here are a couple photos taken in an English class.
The following photos provide an interesting story. The lady you see here is a volunteer that comes and gives massages to the clients. The young boy is also a client here that is deaf and has had a difficult time learning to participate. While watching the massages being given he started wanting to help and now enjoys massaging lotion. He is now calmer and has probably gained a sense of accomplishment.
I want to thank The Handicap foundation for inviting me and Gail Cody for making sure I didn’t get lost. If you sometimes feel lost and are not feeling a real sense of value in your retirement days, this is a place that will remove that feeling. I encourage you to participate with this worthwhile community project either in time or with financial assistance.
Following is Susan Peterson’s writeup on The Handicap Foundation.
The handicap foundation of Panama was created in 1983 with funds raised by the 20-30 Club of Panama in their yearly telethon in December. It was originally called Fundacion Pro Impedidos (Foundation for the Handicapped), and changed a few years ago to Fundacion Pro Integracion (Foundation For Integration, rejecting the stigma of “handicap” and putting emphasis on the desire for their integration into society). It is a non-governmental, non-profit organization with one office in Panama City and chapters in most provinces, all working together in their own way to contribute to a better quality of life for the handicapped population. There is no discrimination of age, sex, race or religion but the emphasis of help is directed to those with limited economic resources.
Chapters such as ours in Boquete can request and receive wheelchairs, walkers, canes, hearing aids and scholarship funds for our community. However, since the budget of the foundation is dependent on the interest received from the seed money raised by the 20-30 Club, their budget fluctuates with interest rates so we are limited as to actual funds available. Therefore any additional needs of our handicap community must be raised by us through fund-raising activities or donations. The office in Panama also supplies us with information pertinent to the rights of the handicapped and organizes a program with “Healing the Children” (Ninos Sanos-Ninos Felices) every other year in Chitre. Aside from those basic services received directly from the Panama City office, the chapters all operate independently and in whatever way is most beneficial and practical for them. All chapters are organized and run by unpaid volunteers, usually professionals in the fields of medicine or education. Boquete’s chapter is unique in the way it operates.
Over 20 years ago, the 20-30 club of Boquete decided to form its own chapter of the handicap foundation in order to meet the needs of the community. A board of directors was chosen from members of the 20-30 club and medical personnel. Meetings were held weekly first in the existing social security clinic then were transferred to the second floor of the firehouse. However, it was not the most ideal situation , and the desire to have our own building began to take shape. It took several years to convince the mayor to sell us the property for $5.00, find a student of architecture to draw plans for the building, meet all the legal requirements for the construction and raise the funds. With the help of almost the entire community of Boquete through donations of equipment and money, cooperation with our fund-raising activities, which at that time was primarily operating a booth where we sold food during the Coffee and Flower Fair, and a major donation from the 20-30 Foundation in Panama, the building was completed and officially inaugurated in 2007. WE ARE THE ONLY CHAPTER OF THE HANDICAP FOUNDATION OF PANAMA WITH OUR OWN LAND AND BUILDING. And last year we received a donation to open an office from Monday through Saturday with a paid secretary. Our board of directors are primarily parents of handicapped children, none of them are professionals and they are very proud of their roles. We have regular monthly meetings the first Monday of each month at 1PM to handle business issues and Saturday socials for ANY and ALL persons with a handicap. One Saturday of each month we celebrate the birthdays of that month. We have an average of 50 families represented each week and new people arriving regularly. As you might imagine, cost of operation has increased as well. We receive $125/mo from Panama for scholarship funds for transportation to special ed classes and physical therapy, but we are now paying out over $1,000/mo for that alone. One donor kindly provides funds for a yearly outing to Borrinquito in Concepcion….a large park-like facility with swimming pools and a river running through….a huge success. Through generous donations from many private individuals and foundations, Irene’s book sales each Tuesday, Buenos Vecinos de Boquete, Amigos de Boquete, Lion’s Club of Boquete, the Shriners, the government, and of course our Rotary Club, we are generally able to meet the basic needs of our members. Our Rotary Club has provided us with wheelchairs, walkers, crutches, canes, whiteboards, scholarships, frequent visits by members and lots of pictures, and some members have practically adopted children. So as not to make everyone feel totally dependent on others, there is a concerted effort to have fund raising projects such as the sale of used clothing, tamales, plants, Bingo, a raffle three times a year, and Bid4Boquete auction which has provided the seed money for an expansion of the existing building. One year we were able to make a lunch and serve it to a group of volunteers who came from North Carolina to work on a Rotary project. The foundation is a valuable source of legal information such as the right of all handicapped citizens with limited resources to carry a carnet from MIDES providing them with free medical attention, medication and lab studies in all government facilities in Chiriqui. We promote supporting each other through conversation and experience, sharing their knowledge. We have had several indigenous women who were illiterate and learned how to read and write thanks to a Rotarian who came each Saturday to teach them. You can’t imagine the pride on a woman’s face when she can finally sign her name. There is another Rotary member from Canada who spends all week teaching sign language and concepts to the deaf or with severe hearing loss who never learned or need re-enforcing because they have little practice. There is a friend who teaches English to any member interested, children and adults. A physical therapist from David comes as often as possible to offer therapy on Saturdays and teach the mothers of members needing therapy how to do therapy at home. A woman has recently started to bring her massage table to offer massages to the handicapped and their caretakers who are often in need of muscle relaxation. We are ever grateful to all and any who come to do handcrafts, puzzles, read, or whatever they enjoy.
We have begun celebrating the queen of the handicap community each year just as all the local schools choose a queen of their school and organize a celebration, including every handicapped child in some presentation. They love the special event, dressing up and performing before an audience. We are grateful to all our supporters who come to share that excitement.
Everyone loves visitors as well. We encourage anyone interested in knowing more about our program to come and visit. We are in the blue building with the red roof surrounded by a cyclone fence, about 500 meters south of the Guadalupano School on the east side of the highway. You don’t need to speak Spanish to interact with children or adults with a handicap. You can just sit down and do a puzzle with them or offer materials for drawing, and some just love to be held or wheeled around. One very kind and regular visitor, who brings little stickers, face paint and bubbles, barely speaks a word of Spanish but brings her love and caring that most children understand. Others take pictures and delight the children by showing them the pictures. A wonderful woman from the community brings her “clown show” a couple times a year. Some provide transportation to those who would not be able to join the weekly activities otherwise. One resident of Boquete requested that any gift in celebration of her 80th birthday be donated to the foundation. And another young woman resident set up her Gem Project with 22 handicapped or family members. The women were delighted and proud of what they could do, but perhaps most importantly, was a comment from one woman that I am sure was shared by many was “It’s so wonderful to have something just for us”. Most of these women have hard, frustrating lives. They need something special in their lives too. All in all, our foundation has many, many people and organizations to thank for all the support we have received over the years. We have wonderful people in our handicap community, those who are blind or deaf, or live in their own world of autism, have very low IQ’s and are happy with the simplest things in life, cannot walk due to an accident, have cerebral palsy or uncontrollable convulsions. They are special and our goal is to make their lives a little bit easier and make them feel as special as we can.