On a Saturday morning in late February, Ricardo Solis carries his mother, Maria, to a friend’s car. Together, they drive to the outskirts of San Jose, Costa Rica, where Maria will receive a wheelchair.
The pair arrive at a senior care center in Belén, where a handful of Redmond associates and local Rotary Club members greet them. Ricardo watches, beaming, while volunteers place his mother in her new chair, ending years of being carried from place to place.
“My mother got sick since I was seven years old,” Ricardo says, embarrassed by English that is better than he seems to realize. “When my father noticed she was sick, he said, ‘I’m gonna let’s go,’ and he left our family. It’s been very, very hard for us.”
The oldest of three sons, Ricardo started caring for his family at an age when most American children spend their days conquering training wheels. Fourteen years later, he speaks of his mother the way we speak of our children.
“Every day I have prayed to God that I can give her a life she didn’t have before,” he says. “But we are poor. I am a little ashamed because I won’t pay for the wheelchair, and I am so grateful to you.”
In the parking lot, a young family climbs from the cab of an Isuzu work truck. Sebastien is seven years old, unable to use his legs, and happy. He clings to his father, whose eyes are moist with gratitude even before volunteers approach. Sebastien’s mother, not much taller than five feet, isn’t able to carry her growing son anymore, and she seems reluctant to accept charity.
The chair arrives. Sebastien begins to clap, and his mother begins to cry.
The morning is full of scenes like these. Marcos, a teen with Down syndrome, crosses the parking lot slowly, on legs determined to disobey. He overflows with joy—when he laughs, the entire room laughs with him. Moments later, as he moves the chair for the first time, we all cry with his mother, who can only repeat, “Mi amor!” through grateful tears.
Working with The Wheelchair Foundation and Rotary Club members, Redmond associates distributed more than fifty wheelchairs in Belén that day, which proved to be the highlight of a memorable ten days in Costa Rica. In the months leading up to the trip, associates raised money and made personal donations to buy the wheelchairs, and Redmond provided the opportunity to experience another culture in a meaningful way.
“Of course, we could have used the money we spent on travel to donate more wheelchairs,” says Rhett Roberts, Redmond’s CEO, “but we would have lost a lot of value in the process. You can change a person’s life by writing a check for a wheelchair, but you change your own life by sharing their joy in person.”
In Belén, most of the wheelchairs have been claimed when Ricardo and Maria make their way back to the car. Their friend, and chauffeur for the day, has been watching from a distance, and he approaches with tears in his eyes. He doesn’t speak English, so Ricardo interprets for him.
“I don’t understand why you spend your money in this way,” he says, pausing to let Ricardo talk, and to find his voice. “But please, don’t stop. Keep doing what you do. You are making a difference. Not only for Costa Rica, for the world.”