By Carrie Jones
BAR HARBOR — Rotarians from clubs in Bar Harbor and Ellsworth joined a contingent from Dawson Creek, British Columbia, to help disabled residents of Belize. Earlier this month, the Rotarians traveled to Belize to deliver 126 wheelchairs and help fit them to their new owners.
The wheelchairs were purchased from the Canadian Wheelchair Foundation. The project was the work of multiple Rotary clubs from four distinct geographical Rotary districts. Nine Rotary clubs in Belize helped locate and distribute the wheelchairs to those who needed them.
“This is a good thing that Rotary makes possible for us to do, not just our club but our district,” said Shaun Farrar, the Bar Harbor club’s incoming president.
Following on the heels of a successful wheelchair distribution in Panama in 2015, the clubs applied for a Rotary International district grant to help support the effort for Belize.
In all, 17 North American Rotarians traveled to Belize, making those connections and bringing with them multiple items to try to make an impact.
Annette Higgins of Bar Harbor carried a 32-pound suitcase full of Beanie Babies to pass out to children Rotarians came across.
Ellsworth’s Jack Frost brought his high school-age daughter, Abigail, who had raised $1,000 to help the Belizean Rotary clubs pay for soccer balls and toys. She had a bake sale at her high school and sent out a personal plea to friends and family members asking for support. It worked.
“I’m really excited about what we’re doing here,” said Abigail, who will be attending Bates College next fall.
Gaylynn Wells hauled a long brown cardboard box in her arms carrying the club banner. Others carried extra suitcases full of school supplies donated by MDI High School’s Interact Club, cramming all the luggage into a hotel shuttle van before beginning their multi-day service adventure. Gaylynn’s father, David Wells, was a key Ellsworth Rotarian who organized the trip.
The wheelchair distribution was applauded by Francis Wood, of Belize City, who was a key part of the program’s coordination. He said his first wheelchair project cemented his desire to be a part of Rotary and what he saw when distributing wheelchairs throughout his country shocked him.
“I had lived here all my life and never thought I would see what I did when I did a wheelchair distribution,” he said.
He saw poverty. He saw hopelessness. He also saw love and beauty. He saw people just like him who were suffering. Sometimes they were suffering and surrounded by love. Sometimes they were suffering alone.
“We have distributed over 2,000 wheelchairs in this country alone. This is amazing,” District Governor Rene Villanueva Sr. said during a morning ceremony that blessed the wheelchairs prior to their distribution.
The wheelchairs are red with black seats and a back pocket and a universal tool for adjustment and repairs. The wheels are more all-terrain and rugged than would be used in more urban settings. They come in different sizes. Foot rests have to be fit to the occupant’s leg size and length so that pressure doesn’t build up on their knees, thighs or feet.
Another grant helped Rotarians support the inaugural Bar Harbor Kids Book Festival. The Bar Harbor club is also working to finish the Park Street Playground Project and the Ellsworth club supports multiple projects within its community.
More than 1.2 million members of Rotary International support grants that allow individual Rotary clubs to undertake international projects such as the wheelchairs, and also sanitation projects, water projects, literacy, peace and work with mothers and children. Through Rotary International, individual clubs can access district grants and band together to access global grants for even larger projects. They can brainstorm with other Rotarians around the world and try to think of new ways to make the world better.