Gifts from Heaven: Cuba Needs Wheelchairs

Mercedes Gonzalez Amade

silla-de-ruedasHAVANA TIMES — Who doesn’t enjoy getting a gift? I don’t think that’s a difficult question. If that gift is something that changes your life, it is far more welcome.

Things become complicated when one is responsible for distributing limited donations to a group of desperate people in need. I found myself in such a situation a few months ago, when I had to distribute 24 wheelchairs among people with disabilities in my neighborhood.

There are many people with motor disabilities in Marianao who are members of the Cuban Association for the Physically Impaired (ACLIFIM). The number of wheelchairs donated didn’t even cover 50 percent of the neighborhood’s needs, and we were forced to prioritize individuals on the basis of their disability.

Of course, those with more severe challenges, such as double amputees, paraplegics and people with medullar lesions, were our top priority. My heart broke when I had to hand out the wheelchairs: I had to send away many who came to me, people who have elderly parents with disabilities at home, because they were not ACLIFIM members.

I was also made monetary offers. The figures were high, but I turned them down. The wheelchairs were being sold at 77 Cuban pesos, and some people offered me as much as 80 Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC), almost 25 times the price.

I tried to be fair, though it was difficult to choose who got one and who had to continue waiting for another donation. What fills me with pride is remembering the joy of those we gave back their legs to, metaphorically speaking.

I am confident I will be able to continue helping those who need help, even if I am not paid for doing this job. I wouldn’t trade sincere gratefulness for any amount of money.

I have always believed that positive energy makes things flow better. The job I do forces me to move long distances across the neighborhood every day. A few days ago, I also got a gift: I was given an electric wheelchair, without any batteries or a transformer (because, according to the association, that is how the donations are received). I am grateful they thought about me and I know it will make my life a lot easier when I manage to get it up and running.

16 thoughts on “Gifts from Heaven: Cuba Needs Wheelchairs

  • First, thank you so much for your effort. We need more people like you. My question: how were you able to get so many wheelchairs into the country and directly to the people? Were you only allowed to give to certain individuals designated by the government? If need be, as I realize this is a sensitive topic, in respect of privacy I would understand if you felt better responding to me privately via email rather than posting public. Your help with this information is appreciated–to know there were ways to import such things besides through the Vatican would be valuable to learn about. Thanks!

  • it should be so nice to see a wheelchair softball team come from Cuba

  • I am heading to Cuba on a church mission trip and was asked by my Cuban friends to bring a wheelchair for an elderly man who needs one. My first question is of this is a bad idea? If it is a good idea, do you think I can buy one in Havana or is it better to bring one? Your advice would be appreciated.

  • Re-read my comments. I applaud your charitable efforts. More people should have a heart for such labors. And yes, Guantanamo, where my wife’s family lives has benefitted markedly from donations from the US and elsewhere. Ironically, in Guantanamo, I have witnessed first-hand the inequitable distribution of donated goods, especially after the ravishes of Hurricane Sandy in late 2012. I share with many the perspective that if Cuba was free of Castro tyranny, then most of what is done to help Cuba would be unnecessary. Cubans are talented and educated and quite capable of being self-sufficient if given the chance. My in-laws are both college-educated engineers. My wife’s grandfather is a retired lawyer. Yet, the salaries and pension of these three adults and the salary of my sister-in-law who teaches COMBINED does not exceed 100 cuc per month. That means that 3 working professionals and one retired Fidelista who live under the same roof, must find a way to survive on about $1 USD per day per person. If my wife did not send a monthly care package of hygiene products, clothing, food AND money, I can’t imagine how they would get by. I know all about Cuban charity. I give it every month.

  • I refuse to be part of a debate of this nature, which helps no one, but to allow Mr. Moses Patterson innuendos, doubts, fear and question the morality of so many people of good will, is intolerable.

    As a visitor to Guantanamo where he refer to have family members, where most of our donations have been sent, I am asking him to respond publicly, if his friends, relatives and himself himself, can verify that hundreds of people in wheelchairs can be seen in their homes, healthcare facilities or on the streets and tens of three wheeled Personal Energy Transport carts, Yellow School Buses, Box Commercial trucks with Pastors For Peace paintings are normal sightings in Guantanamo?

    Why should anyone be so petty and not focus on the Big Picture?

    Why seek perfection, while someone is dragging himself on the ground or mud?

    Charity has nothing to do with political systems, freedom of speech or religious beliefs. No where in the world are there more charities, begging, phone calls, mailings to help others in need than in the US?

    Why do our family support many Police Benevolent, Cancer Hospitals, Humane Society, Women Shelter in a rich country?

    As this fruitless debate continues, seven operatories (dental chairs) donated to Guantanamo by a generous American Dentist, sits in a warehouse in North Florida, unable to reach the dental clinic he had hoped it would serve people he had come to love.

    Please join with those willing to love and create, not destroy. Time will come, to find guilty and blame those who failed to do their duties.

  • You have written “Let it be known, that no matter the complexities in Cuba and the obstructions in the United States, with will, commitment and good faith, help can be provided for those in need.” My comments simply highlight those “complexities”. Are you convinced that your donations ended up in the hands of those who needed them? Were they sold or freely given to them? I don’t doubt that foreign charity is necessary and useful to meeting the immense needs in Cuba. The failure of the regime to given Cubans the opportunity to help themselves has left a huge void that people like you with a heart to help have the capacity to fill. My point of view is continue to help Cubans to be free. That way, they don’t simply eat fish for a day, but can learn to fish and eat every day.

  • So does that mean you will be sending those walkers and canes now that you have been exposed?

  • I have sent some thousands of dollars in surplus dental supplies to Cuba through legal means in the past .
    There are also illegal means of helping Cuba .
    For someone who supports immiserating every man , woman and child in Cuba in support of the very wealthy of this country you have no moral authority to lecture me .
    I never once bashed the United States which is simply a geographical entity .
    I love the shape of the Great Lakes.
    I love the beaches of Cape Cod .
    I love southern fried chicken.
    I love mom’s apple pie

    BUT…..If you mean bashing the imperialist policies of the GOVERNMENT of the United States , why don’t you make your meaning clear instead of hiding behind an asinine blanket accusation .

  • As a twenty year long supporter of Pastors for Peace, I am highly offended with Moses Patterson biased distortions, which only intention is to discourage others, who rather than staying on the sidelines and complain about the lack of goods in Cuba or the pain and sufferings, they try to do something about it.

    Let it be known, that no matter the complexities in Cuba and the obstructions in the United States, with will, commitment and good faith, help can be provided for those in need. After a hurricane devastated Guantanamo in 1998, we were able to land the first 4 engine cargo plane from the US in Guantanamo, since 1959, with over 40,000 of donations from caring friends in Florida.

    I will not describe here what we have sent to Cuba, for fear of it being misconstrued as bragging, but by owning a healthcare related business in Central Florida 1989-2009, we have been able to send millions of surgical gloves, hospital beds, walkers, tons of the most expensive medicines, surgical material and instruments, hundreds of wheel chairs, crutches, prosthesis, educational materials, sports and cultural instruments.

    With our basic moral and material support of the Center for Ecological Refuse (CEPRU) in Guantanamo and the wonderful work they did transforming garbage into compost, removing toxic chemicals from the air and for turning a garbage dump into a Garden of Eden as it was described by CNN, Irania Martinez was the first ever winner of CNN yearly program HEROES in 2007, which was seen by over 3,5 billion people around the globe.

    We have invited a number of artists, intellectuals, educators, physicians in Cuba and the United States, to come or go and share their experiences, hopes and expectations. The Saint Augustine-Baracoa Friendship Association, have published over ten books on Cuba and fostered like no one else, the history of friendship and brotherhood between Cuba and Florida, since the arrival of Pedro Melendez expedition with 4 black Cubans on board in 1565.

    Today, Central Florida is near free of Cuba-haters, because thousands of people have seen Cuban films, documentaries, arts expo or have visited schools, healthcare facilities, pregnant women at risk homes, physically challenged special education schools across Cuba.

    Some have foolishly tried to re-write US-Cuba 500 years relations, by making it part of their anti Castro hatred. Visit Key West, Ybor City, New Orleans, New York and most recently Miami or the Americans who refused to leave Cuba, albeit the threat of nuclear war, to understand how deep is this unbreakable relation.

    As I write these angry notes, SEVEN complete Dental Chairs which was donated from a supportive, -not a hate and destroy- Florida Dental Office, to be donated to Guantanamo Health Department, will not get there, serve the needy (not Fidel Castro’s family) as it is frequently presented on this and other sites, but to a primarily poor, Afrocuban community, for lack of transportation funds.

    Our organization, the Caribbean American Children Foundation, Palm Coast, [email protected] have sent out pleas upon pleas for help, with a nominal of grateful friends stepping forward, with limited funds, Others have chosen to complain, whine and blame!

    In response to a cry for help on this site from a physically challenged young lady in Marianao, I reached out to her and offered our help. Pet Florida in Central Florida, who through their voluntaire workers, make and send hundreds these mobility carts around the world and who have sent over 300 of these equipment to Cuba in the past, offered to send as many as needed to Marianao and we have not been able to accept them as yet, because of our limited finances.

    Two years ago, in an article posted on this site, some poster challenged both the editor and myself of running a scheme, when I asked for help. These destructive atitudes have not discourage and will not change my commitment to people in need in Cuba, in the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Jamaica.

    The time has come to stop spilling bile and hatred. Let’s think for a moment, that a toothache, gall bladder obstruction, cancer and death, has the same devastating effect everywhere.

    If we would only grow up and puts hatred aside, there is so much good that we can do for others and much needed therapy to heal our souls. Those willing to be on the side of the suffering, can reach me through these pages, my e-mail, or google my name in search of police reports.

    I cannot end this without expressing my eternal gratitude to one of the most caring, loving, committed and courageous individual I have met since my arrival in the United States in 1980, the late Reverend Lucius Walker.

    If the world only had more likes of Reverend Walker. If our media had ever offered him and those like him a few minutes of airtime on Sundays, rather than those who have killed, maimed and partially destroyed the world, our children would all have a brighter future in a less hateful world.

  • The border delays were bureaucratic in nature and had little to do with the US/Cuban politics. There is always some concern when there are donated computers which are prohibited by the embargo. Mexico also contributed to the confusion because they wished to impose an import duty on the new items that had been donated. By no means am I suggesting that Pastors for Peace donations are intended to alleviate ALL the hardships facing Cubans. I was simply responding to Goodrich’s false claim that the embargo precludes donating walkers and canes. I look forward to the day when I don’t have to send a monthly care package to my in-laws in Guantanamo and they are able to work and earn a decent salary to support themselves. No crap here.

  • I’m more than grateful to “Pastors for Peace” for their solidarity but they have had hard times to make the some of the shipments. Don’t you remember Lucius Walker’s hunger strikes because the donations weren’t allowed to cross the border with Mexico? On the other hand, the suggestion that donations on the scale of “Pastors for Peace” (Thanks guys!) could alleviate the hardships provoked by the criminal US embargo is a pretty bad joke Moses. They carry an strong symbolic value, but we, and “Pastors for Peace”, prefer by far and large to be able to make it by our own once the embargo is removed.
    Long live to Bill Kong, my “Pastor for Peace” friend!

    Stop the crap Moses. Come clean.


  • Not true. The embargo does not preclude the donation of walkers and canes. Google “Pastors for Peace” who collect and ship donated items to Cuba every year. Rather than writing something you made up simply to bash the US, why don’t you actually do something to help Cuba?

  • I have a friend from Washington D.C. who, every year, in cooperation with Pastors for Peace, collects and repairs truckloads of donated wheelchairs, crutches, and orthopedic shoes for distribution in Cuba. Guess what? The despicable Castro regime receives these much-needed donations for free and then re-sells them to the Cuban people. Worse yet, some of the donated items are brand-new with minor cosmetic defects which prevent them from being sold retail in the US. My friend’s group makes the mostly cosmetic repairs to these otherwise new items and includes them in the donated lot. Seldom do the brand new chairs, crutches, shoes and other items reappear in peso stores in Cuba for resale. These new items are either sent to the dollar stores or magically end up being distributed to the retired elite or well-connected.

  • Well, as soon as the embargo is lifted, I will be able to send a supply of walkers and canes to Cuba as they become regularly available in the retirement community in which I live as people die off.
    I am sure millions of U.S. citizens would also do the same were the USG not so determined to make life as miserable as possible for ALL Cubans by maintaining the imperialist embargo .

  • Cuba needs wheelchairs, hospital toilet seats, inconsistency material for elderly, bedpans, …………… except for the tourist part of the health sector.
    Sorry: apartheid exists in Cuba. Cubans are forced to rely on gifts.

  • You are sweet. I can’t help with wheelchairs but I bring a lot of shoes with me for the kids in the barrio where I was born and grown.

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