When, in April 2002, the team of disabled workers and village youth running the PROJIMO Children’s Wheelchair Shop in Ajoya finally decided to move to a safer and more accessible village near the coast, I (David Werner) was unhappy. For 37 years the village of Ajoya, in the foothills of the Sierra Madre, has been the base of the community health and disability programs that I have put my heart and soul into, and during the course of which I have grown a lot older and perhaps a little wiser.

But with the continued violence, kidnappings, and killings in Ajoya and the adjacent mountain area, and the increased isolation because of the area’s dangerous reputation, since the turn of the year the team began to look for a safer more accessible location for the program. When the people of Duranguito, a very peaceful small village near the Pacific coast just an hour from Mazatlan, welcomed them to set up shop in their village and offered them buildings to live and work in, as well as donated land, they could not resist.

I personally resisted the move, since I have strong roots in Ajoya after four decades. However I must admit that the team made the right move, considering that the Ajoya massacre occurred a mere two weeks later.

The good news is that in a surprisingly short time the new PROJIMO Children’s Wheelchair program in Duranguito is up and running, with enthusiastic cooperation from the local village. The timing seems to be right, since there suddenly seems to be a growing interest in the PROJIMO made wheelchairs that are specially designed and adapted to the individual needs of each child.

Part of the growing interest in individually adapted (yet low cost) wheelchairs for children comes from the fact that in March, 2002, Gabriel Zepeda, coordinator of the Children’s Wheelchair Shop, gave a digital slide presentation to the 4th International Wheelchair Congress, hosted in Mexico City. He showed the way the team of disabled workers evaluated and measured each child, then proceeded to design and build a wheelchair (or gurney or hand-powered tricycle) specially adapted to their needs and possibilities.

In response to this presentation, programs in many parts of Mexico and beyond have awakened to the right of disabled children to have mobility that make them more independent. They have discovered that through small, community-based workshops run by disabled persons can caringly produce custom-made wheelchairs at low cost. Suddenly there is a flurry of interest in this empowering and enabling process.

Gabriel’s team is now traveling as far as Nayarit and Jalisco to work with disabled groups that are beginning to provide individualized wheelchairs for disabled children, and currently the Duranguito team has a backlog of orders.

Also, there is growing interest and support from different government programs in the state of Sinaloa. Thanks to Dolores Mesina, a wheelchair riding graduate from PROJIMO who now works with the disability branch of the Integrated Family Development Program (DIF) in the Municipality of Mazatlan, that branch of government is cooperating closely with PROJIMO in providing wheelchairs and other assistive devices to special needs children.

Another exciting development is that the DIF at the state level is now eager to work with the PROJIMO wheelchair team in expanding the program to help meet children’s needs throughout the state. Arrangements are currently being made for a group of disabled youth in the distant city of Los Mochas (in Northern Sinaloa) to apprentice in Duranguito for 2 or 3 months, in preparation for setting up their own shop in Los Mochas. tichting Liliane Fonds, a charitable organization in Holland, has for many years been providing generous assistance to help cover the cost of wheelchairs and other assistance for disabled children in difficult circumstances. More recently, the Rotary Club in Mazatlan has been raising funds to pay for wheelchairs for adults who can’t afford them.

Thanks to the assistance of Liliane, Rotary, and DIF in helping poor families pay for the wheelchairs, for the last 2 years the PROJIMO Wheelchair Program has been essentially self-sufficient.

Hearty thanks are also due to the Mulago Foundation for assistance to both PROJIMO programs in getting up and running. And we also wish to express our sincere thanks to Bread for the World for helping the PROJIMO Rehabilitation in Coyotitan meet the costs of providing assistance to low income families.

Help Needed

While the PROJIMO Children’s Wheelchair Program is now virtually self-sufficient in terms of salaries and maintenance, the move from Ajoya to Duranguito has incurred substantial expenses. Land has been donated for building the permanent center. The construction expense will be considerable. Donations for building the new center are deeply appreciated. Please help if you can.