Today was a little more of the same. We went into a different village this morning to visit 2 Kuna families with disabled children.
The first family we interviewed had a son with Cerebral Palsy. It seems like this is fairly prominent among the disabilities that we’ve focused on. This little boy was 11 years old and was not nearly as underdeveloped as the little girl we visited yesterday. He looked like a normal 11-year-old boy only he sat in a wheelchair. He is unable to walk but his family talks about how bright he is, and his father explained how badly they wanted him to be able to get an education. Unfortunately for their family, they can no longer take him to get treatment because his wheelchair can’t navigate the rough terrain in their village, the trip into the city is too expensive, and the boy is too heavy for his mother to carry on her own.
Meeting this boy reminded me of my oldest and one of my best friends from home, Paul. Paul was born with Cerebral Palsy and had a fairly dismal diagnosis at first. He wasn’t expected to learn how to walk or talk or ever be able to live on his own. However, Paul’s parents saw that their child was not a lost cause and with therapy and doctor’s visits Paul ended up graduating in the top 5 of our high school class, going on to graduate from Carolina, and is now a first-year law student at Campbell. (Also forgot to mention that today is Paul’s 23rd birthday!!)
I could go on forever about how much Paul inspires me every day and what a positive influence he has been on my life. No one will mean to me what he has meant to me for the past 22 years. But all of these parents with kids who have the same disease as my friend say they are praying to God for a miracle. And I wish I knew enough Spanish to tell them Paul’s story, so that they could have hope. I wish that Paul could be down here with us, cheering us on and showing the kids that they are not necessarily limited in life because of their disability.
What really broke my heart today was when the father began crying, telling us how he’s always dreamed of having a family and children that would run and greet him when he came home from work each day– and how that would never be a possibility with his son. He needs help to visit specialists so that his son can receive therapy and maybe one day run and jump in his father’s arms at the joy of seeing him at the end of the work day.
The second family we visited was a happier situation. We visited an old Kunas mother with a 25-year-old daughter who has Down Syndrome. The girl had not matured at a normal rate and still saw herself as a little girl. She plays with toys and dolls and even in appearance she looked child-like. We were all shocked when we found out she was 25! However, despite her disability, she and her mother were very happy together.
Her mother says that she wished her daughter could marry like her older 7 sisters, but that she is glad to have good help from the older sisters, who come to visit and care for her. The woman described her daughter as a very happy and affectionate girl. When we first arrived she was glad to greet Erika with a big hug.
After we finished the interviews, we all jumped in the van to travel back to the city. We went to the marketplace where our foundation leader, Delberto’s, mother works. She greeted him with a hug and kiss and posed for pictures for us. She also gave us a nice discount on souvenirs so I was able to stock up on trinkets for family and friends! We wandered around Old Town afterward and saw cobblestone streets, vendors, and beautiful cultural reminders of Panama’s past. It was really enjoyable until we began to get grumpy around lunch time.
Tomorrow is going to be really interesting. At 7am we are leaving to go into a tribal village in the interior of the country (for those of you who don’t remember, interior is Panamanian code for “jungle”). They are going to do a traditional dance for us to record and we are going to meet with families and interview some more indigenous people with disabilities. Everyone is very, very excited about seeing this side of Panama. People aren’t granted access to these places with cameras very often, and we are having the opportunity to come in with all of our equipment to record their culture and way of life. It is a once in a lifetime opportunity and I’m sure its something I will remember for the rest of my life .