David and wife Tanya, of Arlington, TX, had arrived at their vacation cottage west of Cobano, Costa Rica in the middle of the night in blinding rain. The next morning, as they were drinking coffee with John and Stephanie, the managers of the cottage they rented, they were introduced to Graciela, a woman living on a nearby farm who was selling milk, eggs, fresh chicken, and cheese. David and Tanya bought all she had, as they were going to be staying for the whole week and needed these basics.
The following morning when Graciela arrived, David asked her (through Stephanie’s translation) if she could teach him how to make the white cheese she sold them. She seemed puzzled, but also pleased, and she agreed. So the next morning she showed up at their cottage with 2 gallons of fresh milk, buckets, cheesecloth and a wooden press, and for the next four hours, they made cheese.
David was in Costa Rica for the ninth time that July and this was Tanya’s first time there. David had just come out of the jungle in the eastern mountain region where he had spent a week working with the indigenous Cabecar people through his church in Texas. Tanya joined him on the other side of Costa Rica for a little R&R after his mission work. David spoke very limited Spanish, so all his conversations with Graciela were through Stephanie or John.
They talked about Graciela living with her husband and teenaged daughters on their farm farther down the rough road. John told them, that in reality, her humble house could not be driven to in anything but a 4-wheel drive vehicle. In fact, getting out to sell her produce is usually quite a chore. She travels into Cobano sometimes, but usually sells to rural folks. They talked about their families – Tanya and David have a son, a daughter, two grandsons and a granddaughter. Graciela told about her twin sixteen-year-old daughters, but one was having to live with Graciela’s mother in Nicaragua because she was handicapped and life is hard on the farm.
As their conversation deepened over the next few hours, David came to discover that not only is Graciela’s daughter Lisbeth handicapped, but she has cerebral palsy and has, since birth, been faced with severe disabilities. Though Graciela did not tell them at that time, Lisbeth lived in Nicaragua because it was so difficult to take care of her in the country hillside setting of the farm. John also explained when they were alone, that the floor of their house was so rough that simply moving Lisbeth around was difficult and that in Nicaragua, conditions were better for her.
David asked if she had a wheelchair and found that this is why Graciela worked so hard each day to sell her farm produce – to someday be able to buy Lisbeth a wheelchair, so that she could once again live with her twin sister and the family on the farm.
Graciela did not shy away from conversation about the problem, but neither did she talk about the economics of the situation. Graciela did not ask for anymore money then for the price of the goods she sold them. They talked parent to parent to parent – Graciela through John and Stephanie to Tanya and David. In that little kitchen while they curdled milk, strained it, pressed it and made cheese, David remembers, “We really were reaching into each others’ lives and understanding joy and pain at the same time.” Graciela talked of the wheelchair, not in the “if we get one,” but rather in the “when we get one.” She would sell milk and eggs, and make cheese until the time and money came.
David discovered that Graciela had a packet of information from a local doctor about the type of chair that was needed and he asked Stephanie if she could get a copy of the papers so they could look into what might be available in the U.S. In the past for David’s mission work, American Airlines had graciously donated humanitarian cargo shipment for his church’s last medical/dental mission trip, and thought perhaps they could arrange something if they could find a wheelchair in the states. Little did they know, until they saw the papers, the chair was specially prescribed for each person and the price listed on the paperwork was $4,500. At 500 Costa Rican Dolones per dollar this comes to 2,100,000 Dolones! And Graciela was selling eggs, milk, ice cream, chicken and cheese to last them a week for $25. They immediately knew that it would take a lifetime for her to save $4,500, yet she was working every single day toward that end.
Tanya and David knew then that they had to do something. Each day they discussed how and whom they would contact back in Texas. Later that day, Tanya remembered that a friend in their Bible Study class in Arlington, Texas was active in the Rotary Club of Grand Prairie. Buddy, The Rotarian, had talked with them often about the worldwide reach of the Rotary and there were chapters in Central America.
They returned to America on a Saturday evening in July and took the packet of papers to church with them the next morning, and as usual, Buddy and his wife Cindy were there. David and Tanya told them the story of Graciela’s cheese, of her daughter, of the little they knew of their lives and without any hesitation Buddy took the papers and told them he would see what he could do.
The following week, Buddy approached his Rotary Club’s District Governor, Linda, and asked if there was a way that a Rotary District Grant could be pursued to pay for Lisbeth’s wheelchair. The governor mentioned that an amount might be available but, Buddy would have to go through the club’s board of directors to “match” the requested amount needed. The club would need to raise half the amount and Buddy should approach someone on the club’s board of directors.
At the end of the Rotary Club’s meeting, Linda saw Michael and asked him, if Buddy had spoken to him about requesting a Matching Grant for a wheelchair for a child in Costa Rica. He said no, but would contact Buddy. Linda reminded Michael, that if a grant was to be pursued, the deadline for the request was the end of the month
Michael contacted Buddy the next week about the wheelchair. Buddy told Michael the story of David’s mission work and then spending an extra week in Costa Rica with his wife where they met Graciela and how they learned of Lisbeth’s needs. Michael mentioned that the club could apply for the grant but, would still need to come up with half the costs even if the grant was approved. And likely would be a year before the Grant was realized and that is if it was approved.
Michael took the medical papers and researched the type and cost of the highly specialized wheelchair on his high-tech computerized, internet-driven database, called The Google.
The first website suggested, was a company in the state of New York. Although the site listed the price of many wheelchairs, for this specialized wheelchair, he had to call to get a price. When he called, a gentleman by the name of Asrar answered and told him a new wheelchair of this style, use, and brand, would cost $4,500. Mike then asked if Asrar had one which had been pre-owned. Asrar did, and one could be purchased for $2,500 and there was no real difference in a chair that had been refurbished.
Michael commented to Asrar that the pre-owned one was the one he wanted, as long there was no real difference from a new one, however he was calling on behalf of his Rotary Club in Texas and would have to raise the funds to purchase the chair. He shared with Asrar that the chair was for a young lady in Costa Rica and the chair would be purchased by the Rotary Club and sent to her.
When Asrar heard, that this wheelchair was being purchased by a Rotary Club for a young lady in Costa Rica, Asrar replied, “So you are a Rotarian? I, too, am a Rotarian.”
Asrar shared with Michael, because of the special needs of Lisbeth and the components of the wheelchair, specific physical measurements had to be made of Lisbeth’s arms, legs, and torso, then returned to Asrar for the wheelchair to be “equipped” specially for Lisbeth. Asrar sent Michael the Measurement Form that needed to be completed by Lisbeth’s doctor.
Because the paperwork from Gracielas was in Spanish, Asrar’s form was in English, Michael knew he needed someone on the ground in Costa Rica to have the forms translated, completed and delivered to the Lisbeth’s doctor in Nicaragua, then have someone in CR deliver the chair once they got one. So he contacted the Rotary Club of Puntarenas and found Rotarian, William and asked if his Club would be interested in helping.
William did not hesitate. He told Michael that he and his club would be happy to help where needed. William took the measurement form and the medical packet to Lisbeth’s doctor in Nicaragua. Then, William and the Rotary Club of Puntarenas would receive the chair in San Jose and would deliver to Lisbeth in Cobano, Costa Rica.
At the end of September, Michael forwarded the forms from William in Costa Rica to Asrar in New York and followed up with a phone call to him to see if his club would want to be a part of this Rotary Club International Project by perhaps helping with the shipping costs of getting the chair from New York to DFW Airport. To be a part of the grant, all his club needed to do, was to donate at least $100. Asrar said he would check with his club’s president.
Michael got a call back from Asrar and relayed that his club would help with all shipping costs from New York to Grand Prairie. In fact, when Asrar presented the proposal to the club, one of the club members’, stood and offered his FedEx shipping number to get the chair to Grand Prairie.
When Michael mentioned that he was putting the final numbers together on the wheelchair’s cost for the district grant, Asrar shared with Michael, that he need not worry about the cost of the chair. Michael had to ask, what he meant. Asrar replied, the chair is being donated to Lisbeth. Not wanting Asrar to place his business at a loss, Michael tried to persuade Asrar to at least allow the Grand Prairie club to pay for the cost on the chair but, Asrar would hear nothing of it and replied, “Michael, this is why I am a Rotarian.”
As of October 12, Lisbeth is traveling from Nicaragua to live with her family in Cobano, Costa Rica, Asrar and the Rotary Club of Newburgh, NY are preparing the wheelchair to be shipped to Grand Prairie, Michael and the Rotary Club of Grand Prairie are making arrangements to ship the wheelchair to Juan Santamaria Airport where William and the Rotary Club of Puntarenas are awaiting to deliver this special young lady a very special gift.
And all because a man from Texas wanted to learn from Graciela, how to make cheese.
The Iris Wheelchair
Michael Hasty – Grand Prairie Rotary Club – 214-507-7681(c)
Asrar Ahmed – Newburgh Rotary Club – 845-282-0493(c)
William Barrantes – Puntarenas Rotary Club – 011-506-263-64848 (Intl call)
David Stout – 817-501-1015(c)
Buddy Bridges – 817-215-5169(c)