Last night at a premiere party for a movie — The Way, although I saw neither (star) Martin Sheen nor (director) Emilio Estevez and therefore didn't get to pester them with questions about Catholicism or Steve Jobs or whatever — I met a lady who runs a pretty cool charity.
Carolina Gonzalez-Bunster founded the Walkabout Foundation two years ago with her brother Luis. Luis has used a wheelchair since a car accident left him paralyzed from the chest down, and has had his share of accessibility issues. He even had to sue his local YMCA under the Americans with Disabilities Act after it built a state-of-the-art Olympic-sized swimming pool and fitted it with a wheelchair lift — inside a building that had no wheelchair ramp. That experience led Carolina to quit her job (she had been an analyst at Goldman Sachs) and, with Luis, to found Walkabout, which raises money to fund research into spinal cord injuries and to donate wheelchairs to disabled people in developing countries. Carolina told me last night that they've donated nearly 1500 of the wheelchairs so far, including 250 in Rwanda and 400 in Haiti. In both cases, the foundation worked with Partners in Health.
The wheelchairs in question are RoughRiders made by a company called Whirlwind, and they were chosen because they are rugged, suitable for rough terrain, and can be repaired with materials that are relatively plentiful. "They're built out of bicycle parts," she explained, "so they can be repaired." The issue in the countries where the Walkabout Foundation works isn't kerb cuts or ramps, she said, "the issue is that there is nothing in developing countries. There's uneven ground, there may not even be pavement. People need wheelchairs that can go almost anywhere." For some reason, I find this video of people using RoughRiders to roll over steps and sidewalk grates kind of mesmerizing.
I didn't see The Way, so I have no idea how it stacks up against the current reigning champion of movies about the Way of St. James, Buñuel's The Milky Way, but I did like hearing Sheen père and fils talk about it on NPR. Luis did the Way of St. James in his chair. If you want to donate money to the Walkabout Foundation, you can do so here.