One of the benefits of the new Skills Training and Work Program in the village of Ajoya, Mexico, is that it has brought in some exciting new perspectives and possibilities.

To launch the “Wheelchairs for Children” workshop, 3 wheelchair-riding graduates from PROJIMO have come from afar to teach villagers the basics of wheelchair design and construction. (This is a welcome reversal of the conventional roles, insofar as here disabled youth are the skilled instructors of unskilled non-disabled apprentices.)

The 3 disabled instructors have ideas of their own. All are from humble origins, but they have spent time living in cities and exchanging ideas with disabled activists in Mexico and the USA. They have thus garnered new insights and a strong sense of their rights.

Polo Leyva, a Wheelchair Builder with Dreams

Polo Leyva is a local villager who had polio as a baby and has never been able to walk. He spent his childhood playing in the sand outside his family’s hut. He never went to school. But when PROJIMO—the village program run for and by disabled young people—began 17 years ago, Polo was invited to participate. Disabled wheelchair engineer, Ralf Hotchkiss, taught him how to build wheelchairs, and for years Polo headed PROJIMO’S wheelchair and welding shop.

Eventually Polo left PROJIMO to strike out on his own. His travels led him to Hermosillo, where he set up a wheelchair repair shop with an organization of disabled youth. He now lives in Tijuana, is married, and is currently negotiating with officials for a piece of land to set up a wheelchair-making and repair shop in that city. Polo’s dreams have carried him far. But he was more than willing to come back to Ajoya for a few months, to help PROJIMO’s new Work Program start its worker-run cooperative to produce children’s wheelchairs.

A Ramp for Access into Village Buses

For wheelchair riders and other physically disabled persons in Mexico, getting in and out of buses has always been difficult. Polo Leyva, who travels a lot by buses, is determined to see his country achieve greater accessibility … starting with Ajoya.

He was tired of having to ask people to lift him into buses in their arms. From the time he arrived in Ajoya this February, Polo began to talk with villagers about the need for a wheelchair ramp to make it easier to get into and out of the buses.

At last the village responded. Under the guidance of the 3 disabled instructors—Polo Leyva, Martín Pérez, and Gabriel Zepeda—a group of village youth started building the ramp.

With rocks, sand, and cement, the villagers built the ramp against the back wall of a big adobe house by the bus stop. First they built a temporary retaining wall of wood. This they lined with rocks which they cemented together. They filled the enclosed space with rocks and sand, and capped it over with cement.

The long ramp has a gentle slope (a ratio of about 1 to 15). The ramp has 2 level platforms, an intermediate one for access to pick-up trucks, and a higher one for rolling onto the bus. The Ajoya bus has a set of rear-end doors through which wheelchair riders can roll right in from the ramp. A space without seats at the back of the bus allows 3 wheelchair riders to be securely positioned.

Polo hopes many other towns will follow PROJIMO’s example and build similar ramps.