Concepción Lara—Conchita, for short—is a long-time member of the Project PROJIMO team. At the Hesperian board meeting in June, she recounted the personal history that led her to the project and talked about what her involvement with PROJIMO has meant to her. While her story is uniquely her own, it is in many ways typical of the experiences of others who come to PROJIMO for treatment or rehabilitation and end up staying on as workers.
It’s been twelve years and five months now since my accident. For a long time afterwards it was very difficult for me to accept my new situation. I had been a happy girl who liked to dance, sing, participate in sports, and study. There wasn’t much I didn’t like to do. Now I’m in a wheelchair.
For four years after my accident I shut myself up in the back room of our house. I really believed that my life had ended. I refused to see my friends and felt very bad. All I could ask myself was, “Why me?” Because I could neither believe nor accept what had happened to me, I suffered deeply. I wouldn’t accept being in a wheelchair.
When my parents took me to clinics I became nearly desperate. And though they took good care of me and worried a lot about me, I cried every day. Once when they were arguing about which of them would take me to a clinic in Mexico City, I screamed for them to do nothing for me. But they continued arguing. So I screamed again and broke both arm supports on my chair. My sister was also crying. She yelled at me, "¡Yo que tu me quitara la vida!"—“If I were you, I’d kill myself!” That I’ll remember forever.
It’s not that my sister is cruel. It was her way of saying how desperate she too had become. She’s a kind person. I love her a lot. But all of this led me to a level of desperation that was intolerable. Twice I tried to kill myself.
Once when I had to go to the hospital my mother had to convince me to go out in my wheelchair. I didn’t want to but ended up going anyway. I was embarrassed and angry to see how people looked at me with pity or as if I was strange. All of this made me afraid.
When we first heard about PROJIMO, my parents said that they would take me there. I said that I was sick of clinics and doctors and lies and that I wouldn’t go anywhere. Just a few days before I had gone to a chiropractor. After looking me over, he told my parents that I was a liar and had been fooling them about my paralysis. To demonstrate that I was lying he held a hot lamp against my legs until it burnt me. When he saw what he had done, he became very serious and said nothing. That’s why I was so afraid of doctors.
I was embarrassed and angry to see how people looked at me with pity or as if I was strange.
So then I went to Ajoya. I’ve been with PROJIMO for about seven years now and have become a very different person, thanks to all the compañeros at PROJIMO and to David Wemer.
When I arrived at PROJIMO I had two deep pressure sores that were infected. The compañeros began to treat me immediately. It was then that Roberto Fajardo † and other friends said that I might be taken to San Francisco for skin grafts, but that because of damage to my spine I would probably never walk. This was very difficult for me, because doctors had told me that I would be able to walk with therapy and exercise. But, thanks to my friends at PROJIMO and the fact that I came here to the hospital, I’ve been able to overcome many problems. I was taken to Shriners Hospital in San Francisco and had the skin graft done, and it was there that I began to appreciate myself once again.
† Roberto Fajardo has worked with Project Piaxtla for 17 years, and has been one of its leaders for the past ten years. He first came to Piaxtla for treatment for a case of juvenile arthritis that had completely immobilized him. For more information on Roberto, see Newsletter #20.
When I returned to my family, they couldn’t believe that I no longer needed help for anything. They all wanted to keep doing everything for me, but I told them that I could do things for myself. When I told them that I wanted to return to Ajoya, they didn’t want me to go alone. They wanted my sisters to go with me, but I insisted that I wanted to go on my own. I said that I wanted to show my friends in Ajoya what I had learned in California. It is now seven years later, and I’m still there.
In my time with PROJIMO I’ve had much opportunity to help others, mainly women, to regain their sense of self-worth. And not just through physical therapy and exercises, but by recognizing that life can be beautiful almost regardless of the circumstances. There is so much we can do, never mind that we may be disabled.
I’ve participated in many different aspects of PROJIMO’s work: physical therapy; pressure sore treatment; cooking; accounting; a little m doing consultations; talking with people, especially with those coping with recent spinal cord injury; cleanup; diabetes testing; and checking blood pressure of people in the community. I feel now like a very different and a very lucky person when I look back on all the support I’ve been given and all that I’ve in turn been able to give to others.
One thing I forgot to mention is that I worked in the Conasupo (a government-sponsored food store) in Ajoya for two years. Roberto Fajardo and some of the directors of the Conasupo arranged an opportunity for us to work at the store. I was chosen to start working there so that I could learn the ropes and teach other people from PROJIMO how to do things. When I saw that the others were getting the hang of it, I left, although sometimes they still ask me back to help out. The idea behind having people from PROJIMO work at the Conasupo was to show that disabled people were very capable, that they could do all the necessary work and run the store, and also to give people skills that would be helpful in finding a job when they left PROJIMO.
I was 16 years old when my problem started. In the four years I was at home, I thought I’d never get married. I imagined that nobody would notice me or think that I would be capable of it because I was in a wheelchair. But now I’ve been married for four years and have a little girl of two and a half years. Sometimes my husband and I have problems, but we are basically happy.
In January of this year I became very ill and had to have surgery for gallstones. I spent eight days in the hospital. I couldn’t move, bled a lot, and was constantly catheterized. After the first four days I developed serious pressure sores. It’s because of this that I’m waiting here now for another surgery on the tenth of this month, God willing. Despite this temporary setback, everything seems to be going well for me now, thanks to all of my compañeros to my parents whom I love very much, and to my husband. This is just a brief part of my history. HW
Update: Conchita’s surgery, which was performed by Interplast (a nonprofit organization based in Palo Alto, California which provides plastic surgery to Third World patients), was a success. Conchita is now back in Ajoya working with PROJIMO).