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Monica’s Letter To Luis On Mother’s Day

My beloved son Luis,

There are so many things that my heart feels that I will start by telling you and the world that the day you were born, God gave me the biggest joy and blessing a mother could have…you, my adorable son, my “Bebe” as I used to call you.

You are my life, the light of my eyes and I love you with all my heart, together with my other four children, Adriana, Carolina, Diego and Matias. I don’t understand and I will never comprehend why this accident happened to you, but I know I can’t change the past. It doesn’t mean I forgot what happened to you on that day, 26 years ago, when you were injured in a car accident, breaking your C4-C-7 vertebrae.

If my heart was broken that day, I can only imagine how you must have felt. I know the world turned upside down and those moments were so scary for you my son. As a family, we could only imagine your pain, your sorrow and your life bound to a wheelchair, but my heart always told me how strong you were and that you could move mountains.

After leaving the hospital after your accident, letting you go alone to university in another state was one of the scariest things I ever had to do. A part of me was at ease knowing that your good friend Benjamin would be living with you, but my mind could not stop wondering how your life had changed, and how you would cope with all the new challenges you would have to overcome.

You have always amazed me because you never stopped living life to the fullest, despite the challenges your wheelchair posed. You studied, you ran marathons, you went skydiving, you crossed the Grand Canyon and so much more! We are so proud of you my “Luigi adorado.”

You became the first person in history to transverse the entire “Camino De Santiago de Compostela,” all 940 kilometres across Spain with just the strength of your arms. You travelled the world, you rode your bicycle here, there and everywhere, you swam hundreds of laps in our pool each day. Nothing and no one could stop you; you worked so hard to stay in shape and be as healthy as anyone could be.

Everything seemed to be normal again, but life always brings us surprises, and despite it all, your health was in jeopardy again. I know Luigi, that the road to recovery is not always a peaceful journey. I know your suffering, your despair and most of all your pain. I have witnessed it with my own eyes. I have been by your side seeing you suffer and praying for your pain to go away. I prayed to God to give me your pain and your sorrow, and to help you cope and understand that better days are on their way.

You are so strong my son. You continue to handle your challenges each and every day and never complain. I was told in Medjugorje that God gives his hardest battles to his strongest soldiers. You Luis are his beloved and strongest soldier. The past few years have been the toughest ones you’ve been struggling with, but you never give up.

I want you to know Luis how much I love you and how much your father, brothers and sisters love you and always will as well.

There is a quote that says: “God gave you a fingerprint that no one else has, so you can leave an imprint no one else can.” You, my adorable, beloved son Luis Andres have made the biggest most beautiful imprint on my heart, by being my baby and my son and by being you. You bring love and kindness to the world, you bring your beautiful teachings, and most of all, you bring us all your heart of gold.

Never give up, as you said Luis, “mobility is possibility” and I know you can do it.

On this Mother’s Day, thank you Luis for making me a mother for the first time and the proudest mother. I love you with all my heart, with all my love, for ever and ever.

Mami

A Mother’s Journey After Her Son’s Spinal Cord Injury

Dear Friends,

My name is Julie Williams and I’m the mother of Walkabout’s advocate, Kirk Williams.

Kirk was injured in a mountain biking accident in 2009, breaking his C4-6 vertebrae and injuring his spinal cord. Receiving that phone call and the weeks that followed brought me to my knees. Our family had lived an active lifestyle of swimming, hiking, biking, and adventuring pre-accident. We all had an easy, uncomplicated fun-loving relationship with Kirk. I wasn’t sure if that would ever happen again.

I will be honest, my maternal instincts and gravitational pull to Kirk became my Achilles heel following his injury. It strained me to the breaking point. He needed his space to heal while I felt I needed to be right by his side through everything. After a “come to Jesus” talk with Kirk, I realized the best thing I could do for him was to leave him in Colorado and return home to Virginia. After all, I had to accept I could not make this better. It was out of my control. I was making it worse for both of us. A harsh reality for a mom to face. But face it, I did.

Though there is no cure for someone who has suffered a Spinal Cord Injury yet, rehabilitation centers teach amazing ways for patients to adapt.  I am blessed to have a son who took in all the suggestions and was able to build upon them… and then some.

Shortly after leaving the hospital, Kirk began going out for adventures with various adaptive sports organizations. His change in character was evident. Our conversations began shifting to what he was doing, not how he was doing. This was a remarkable improvement for the relationship between us as well.

As time went by, Kirk kept doing more and more. Before long he was doing even more than he did when he was able-bodied!  I didn’t see that coming! We started to become creative about family vacations, in a good way. Rather than exchanging Christmas presents, we planned family trips to Cozumel, Belize and Maui, so the guys could SCUBA dive together, while all I needed was a good book, the beaches and quality time with my boys.

Recently, I’ve been finishing a children’s picture book called Bella Joins the Service; a story about Kirk and his amazing service dog, Bella. Bella tells about her dilemma and angst as Kirks’ best friend after he was first injured. She asks the questions, ‘What can I do? What if I jumped on top of him and licked him? Would that make him better?’ We follow her journey as she and her “Kirk” come full circle to live the same life they enjoyed before — just differently. This story, of course, parallels my journey as Kirk’s mom since the accident. Bella and I are the same in our love for our Kirk.

We are both so proud of Kirk, what he has achieved and what he will continue to achieve. As it turns out, we have come full circle and do enjoy the same life we had before… Just differently.

With love and hope,

Julie

This Mother’s Day in the UK, make all the moms in your life feel extra special. Give a woman in need the gift of mobility in honour of your mom today!

Walkabout Foundation Announces Haiti Partnership with Hope Health Action

Walkabout Foundation is thrilled to announce that we are partnering up with Hope Health Action once again! This global strategic partnership will combine our knowledge of global wheelchair distribution services with HHA’s expertise in facilitating sustainable and innovative healthcare in Haiti.

There are an estimated 60 million people in the world who do not have access to a wheelchair because they cannot afford one. In Haiti, people with disabilities are among the most vulnerable, with conditions prohibiting their independence, and access to key services (such as education and healthcare), which prevents them from being a part of the community.

Walkabout Foundation and HHA strongly believe that everyone should have access to the dignity, freedom and independence that mobility brings. Together, we are building a brand new HHA Walkabout Distribution Centre in Haiti, which will provide locals with a regular and sustainable supply of wheelchairs, transforming hundreds of lives every year. The centre will become the single largest wheelchair provider in the country, acting as a regional hub for the Caribbean and Latin America. We are focused on a holistic approach of wheelchair provision and aim to eventually replicate our successful Kenya model.

“We are incredibly excited and humbled to be bringing the Haiti project to life alongside our long-standing partner, Hope Health Action, who are experts in the field of mobility disability and care needs in Haiti” says our co-founder, Carolina Gonzalez-Bunster. “We could not ask for a better partner, who have been working in Haiti for over 14 years and we strongly believe that together, we will make a sustainable impact in a country so close to our hearts and history.”

The team at HHA share Walkabout’s enthusiasm about this exciting new project. “Hope Health Action is delighted to be partnering with Walkabout Foundation on this exciting new project that will transform the lives of thousands of people across Haiti in the coming years” says Carywn Hill, CEO and co-founder of HHA. “This will be the country’s first national wheelchair distribution facility that will tackle a critical national need and transform rehabilitation efforts across Haiti.”

“Opening this new wheelchair distribution centre is a major step forward in fulfilling our joint dream to ensure everyone in Haiti who needs a wheelchair, can have access to one. There are few greater privileges in our work than to see the humbling transformation of someone who arrives at our hospital, crawling in the dust and dirt having never had a wheelchair, but later leaving; proud, independent and mobile with their life-transforming wheelchair.”

Together, we will hire local wheelchair riders to assemble and distribute a minimum of 900 wheelchairs every year, thereby investing in local expertise and creating lasting, sustainable change across the country! We can’t wait to share the developments of the project in the months and years to come!

Time to Talk Day: A Message from our Cofounder

They say a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. For our family, this step was discovering how difficult life can be for people with mobility disabilities, after Luis was left paralysed in a tragic car accident at the age of just 18. So, in 2009, my brother and I turned our pain into passion and launched Walkabout Foundation with an 870 kilometer walk along the Camino de Santiago de Compostela.

Since then, we have impacted the lives of over 46,000 people through the distribution of over 16,800 wheelchairs in 25 countries, opened 2 rehabilitation centres for children in desperate need in India and Kenya, opened a Wheelchair Assembly and Repair Centre in Kenya, with plans to open another in Haiti this year, while funding over $1.6 million in pioneering medical research to find a cure for paralysis. Today, we are both an intrinsic part of the organisation’s daily operations, fundraising and programmes – and we lead our team with a simple philosophy – ‘let’s make the world a better place, one person, one wheelchair at a time’.

Start-ups are rarely the safest choice. Often, they are crazy leaps of faith based on an idea that you believe in with all your heart. Our leap of faith in 2009 has led to such positive change, not only for us, but for thousands of people around the world that we help every year. Although our 10-year journey has been a beautiful one, it hasn’t always been easy. Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) and mobility disabilities can leave those suffering from terrible invisible scars such as loneliness, depression, and isolation to name a few. A person with spinal cord injury obviously has sustained an injury to their body, but what can be equally or even more debilitating than the physical injury is what it does to your psyche.

In Luis’ case, he became extremely isolated and did not want anyone to see him in that state. For the past 9 years, my brother has been suffering from severe abdominal pain that has spread to other parts of his body and has taken a serious toll on his mental health too. When asked how he powered through in times of crisis, Luis said, “I try and look on the bright side as often as I can, regardless of how difficult that may be and one thing this experience has given me, if there ever is to be a silver lining to it, is a considerably greater amount of empathy for all those going through hardships, of all kinds”.

That is why, this Thursday 4th of February, on Time to Talk Day, we feel it is our duty to share our story and how starting Walkabout has kept us level-headed over the years. What we have found helps us is to reach out and help others. There is such strength, beauty and motivation in knowing that the work you do every day is bigger than just you. Providing people in desperate need with wheelchairs is about more than just mobility, it’s about improving their quality of life, giving them true independence and bettering their chances at living a happy life.

We all suffer in one way or another due to this pandemic, and we need to do our best to support each other, because you never know what someone is going through. After what has been an incredibly tough year with all the lockdowns and shutdowns, this Time to Talk Day, we would like to inspire others to rise up and talk about their mental health too – overcome the taboos, find inspiration and feel a part of a community. We want to shout from the rooftops that ‘no one is alone’!

With love,

Carolina Gonzalez-Bunster

A Personal Note From Quadriplegic Hero, Kirk

Hello fellow Walkabout friends,

I’d like to take a quick minute here to introduce myself. I’m Kirk Williams, a quadriplegic adventure photographer, world traveler, and adaptive vanlifer. I just returned from an incredible trip around Patagonia in my wheelchair accessible campervan where I have been teaching others about adaptive vanlife and raising awareness about all of those in our world who don’t have access to the most fundamentals of freedoms: mobility.

I’ve been very fortunate since breaking my neck in 2009 to have the support system I do. Living in Colorado, I have access to the beautiful outdoors that I love so much and am constantly trying to figure out better ways to get out and experience nature again. I’ve been lucky to try many different adaptive sports from skiing to wheelchair rugby and have slowly returned to doing something I love the most, travel. 

Travel in a wheelchair can be humbling. It often times takes you out of your comfort zone and reminds you how different things operate in different parts of the world. Travel has taught me so many things that I could never learn in books, only from experience. Travel reminded me of just how many people in the world have mobility impairments and absolutely no way to acquire the medical equipment they need. Travel showed my that just by shear luck alone, I’m living in a country that has the infrastructure in place to take care of me as a disabled citizen. Travel brought me to finding, and now partnering with Walkabout Foundation. 

Did you know that there are an estimated 100 million people in the world who are in need of a wheelchair, and 65 million of those can’t afford one!? Can you imagine!? I know I can’t. 

Because of what I’ve experienced in my travels and hearing statistics like this, I’ve decided to use my privileged travel platform as a way to educate, inspire, and campaign to change others lives along the way. We’ve been given the tools and opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life, it’s time we start doing so. 

On September 26th, I’ll be hosting an individualized 5k ‘virtual’ Walkabout here in the USA, to support Walkabout, as their annual flagship event, London Walkabout has been cancelled because of the pandemic.

My goal is to raise $15k that will allow us to send a container full of life changing wheelchairs anywhere they are needed in the world. For about $300 we can buy, build, and supply a wheelchair to someone that will change their life, forever. 

A portion of the proceeds will also go towards spinal cord injury research too. It goes without saying how important a spinal cord injury cure could be for people like me but also for the millions of others. Every 60 minutes someone is spinal cord injured in the US, in India it’s every 15! Let’s work to help get them back on their feet again. 

Our world is an interesting place these days. Uncertainty lurks around every corner, leaving us confused and questioning like never before. The idea of ‘normal’ seems to change almost daily. What do we do next? How do we move forward? 

Let’s all take a break on September 26th and do something for someone else who could really use our help. Let’s walk for those who can’t! This virus will slowly go away and our lives will return to normal. Those who don’t have a wheelchair now, won’t get one later. Not without our help. 

If you’d like to take part, simply grab a group of friends and walk an easy, 5k route, in the name of those millions of people who can’t. Then, encourage those same friends to donate, and make a positive change in our world.

Thanks for all your support and if you’re interested in following along, I can be found on Instagram @impact.overland or at 

www.impactoverland.com

Cheers and thanks again, 

Kirk 

A Personal Letter From Our Co-Chair, Alex

Dear Walkabout Friends,

I was 16 when my life was turned upside down by a car accident that left me completely paralysed from the waist down. Thankfully, I was able to receive fantastic rehabilitation care and found a way to get on with my life – although from then on in a wheelchair.

Inspired by others, like Walkabout Founder Luis and his adventures on the Camino de Santiago, I have always strived to make the most out of life despite my disability. And I’ve certainly had fun while doing that. But being paralysed is not just being confined to a wheelchair, there are many less visible but more frustrating side effects, like incontinence, persistent 

urinary tract infections, and phantom pains, that are not so fun to deal with. 

The research that Walkabout Foundation is funding is not only helping to get people walking again, but also perhaps as importantly, it helps those with Spinal Cord Injury better manage those secondary side effects. Although that may not seem like the “breakthrough” people imagine, it is a real game-changer for people with paralysis, enabling them to focus on all the opportunities that life still has to offer.

Today, I kindly ask you on behalf of the millions of people like me who live with a SCI and paralysis, to consider making a donation to the groundbreaking research Walkabout is funding, knowing that 100% of it will go towards the labs that so desperately need our support.

Love, Alex

A Personal Note From Our Cofounder, Luis

Dear Friends,

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about what to write for September’s  Spinal Cord Injury Awareness Month and I’ve settled on addressing “quality of life” for people with disabilities and how it’s essential for meeting the true definition of what it means to really be alive. This is applicable to people in general but I’ll focus on paralysis and other mobility disabilities.

First, a little background for those of you who don’t know my story or aren’t clear of all the facts as it’s been a long time since I last spoke. My name is Luis Gonzalez Bunster and in the summer of 1994, only two weeks after I graduated from Brunswick School in Greenwich, CT, I sustained a spinal cord injury when I was involved in a head-on collision with another automobile while driving home from my girlfriend’s house. 

The accident left me paralyzed from the chest down, an incomplete functioning T4 paraplegic, meaning that I had full control of my arms and hands (a miracle really because I sustained an injury in the cervical area) but incomplete because I had feeling below the level of my injury, a blessing and a curse I would later discover. I went to the University of Miami in January of 1995, roughly six months after my injury. I began doing physical therapy and swimming and eventually taking up hand cycling. I began training for marathons and in 2001 competed in the NYC Marathon and followed it up a few years later with the Miami Marathon. I continued to train over the years as it was extremely beneficial to my health, as well as it made it easier to do things like transfers and put my wheelchair into my car on my own. Both things that helped give me true independence.

Near the end of the summer of 2008 and into the early fall of the same year, I was swimming in our outdoor pool when my sister Carolina who noticed it was beginning to get rather cold out asked me why I didn’t use the new YMCA’s pool facility they had just rebuilt. We found out that I could not access the pool even though they had just spent $40 million to renovate it. This was one of the main factors that inspired me and Carolina to found the Walkabout Foundation in 2009.

So what is quality of life? The dictionary defines it as “the standard of health, comfort and happiness experienced by an individual or group.” That’s a very broad definition, but it helps us evaluate an individual or group based on that criteria and determine whether or not they are experiencing life to the fullest.

Let’s dive right in and start with health. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, health is defined as “the condition of being sound in body, mind or spirit; especially: freedom from physical disease or pain.” People who are paralyzed or have some other disability that affects their mobility usually suffer from health sometimes in all three categories: body, mind and spirit. A person with a spinal cord injury obviously has sustained an injury to their body, but what can be equally or even more debilitating than the physical injury is what it does to your psyche. I know in my case I became very depressed and almost embarrassed of my new situation. I didn’t want people to see me in this state. It seriously affected my confidence and I became rather reclusive, which only increased my depression. Now I had the luxury of a family that could support me with anything I needed, I even had a convertible car with hand controls, but just try to imagine someone who can’t even afford to purchase their own wheelchair! 

Without a wheelchair these individuals are relegated to a life spent mostly in bed and require the help of others to be mobile. Shopping carts and wheel barrels are common forms of transportation for these people which are hardly adequate and of course, it doesn’t offer them a sense of independence, which I guarantee is vital to supporting mental health, and thus a good quality of life! 

So the wheelchairs that Walkabout helps to distribute to thousands of people in developing countries around the world gives people their mobility back, thus allowing them to be independent and ultimately productive members of society and not a burden on their communities. It allows them to simply go outside and enjoy the things most of us take for granted, like a stroll with a friend or family member, playing with your kids, going to a friend’s house for dinner or anything that couldn’t be done from the confines of a bed. All you have to do in order to understand the impact of such a gift is to see the look at their faces when they finally realize that this new wheelchair is theirs and all that it represents, primarily the regaining of independence! Pure smiles all around!

Life has to be more than simply surviving…that’s not enough! 

To share a rather personal story that I think helps illustrate my point is my experience with terrible chronic neuropathic pain associated with spinal cord injuries, or at least that’s what the doctors think I have. For the past 8.5 years, I’ve been suffering from agonizing abdominal pain that feels like being stabbed by a 6-inch blade, and with every movement, it feels like it’s being twisted and turned to inflict even more pain. The pain has spread to more areas of my body. My left leg that had a blood clot decades ago is in even more pain; it’s even begun to give me pain when I simply have to urinate or move my bowels! This condition got worse and I eventually had to have a colostomy operation because I could not eat! The worst thing about it is that I can’t take any opioids for the pain because it makes my situation worse, as it slows my motility. I have become a recluse due to this condition and have annoyed quite a few of my friends by missing appointments or dinner dates for example. My love life has suffered immensely as well, practically becoming nonexistent.

All this is obviously very frustrating because not only do I have to suffer the physical pain, which is very real and very intense, although invisible, which in itself can be rather annoying because people can’t see the agony I’m going through inside my body. But the worst thing is that I’m missing out on life; I’m not doing all the things I used to love to do. It’s lonely because I’m physically isolated, but it also feels as if no one seems to understands what I’m going through which can be even more isolating than the physical isolation. Happiness and comfort are severely compromised, resulting in a reduced quality of life.

I like to try and look on the bright side as often as I can, regardless of how difficult that may be and one thing this experience has given me, if there ever is to be a silver lining to it, is a considerably greater amount of empathy for all those who are going through hardships, of all kinds. One never knows the whole story behind a person’s suffering and all the dynamics that encompass it. We are all going through this to varying degrees when it comes to the COVID pandemic. We are all hurting and should remember our own pain when judging others’ behavior. You don’t know if they just lost their parent or spouse or a loved one, and thus should have the empathy to cut them some slack. We need to be better to each other. 

In conclusion, I want to echo a famous quote from the brilliant Martin Luther King: “Peace isn’t merely the absence of war, it is the presence of justice.” Walkabout’s wheelchairs and our cutting edge research are intended to provide as many people as we can the ability to achieve the goal that every other human being on earth has: to be the best we can be! As the great Abraham Lincoln once said: “…in the end it’s not the years in your life that count, it’s the life in your years.” That to me is the true definition of quality of life!

In gratitude, 

Luis

Help us get one step closer to finding a cure for Luis and paralysis

Spinal Cord Injury Awareness Month

Walkabout Foundation was founded by siblings Luis and Carolina Gonzalez-Bunster after Luis was left Spinal Cord Injured at the age of 18.

Eleven years ago, Carolina and Luis completed the famous Camino de Santiago walk to raise funds and awareness of Walkabout. That day, Luis became the first person in the history of Spain to cross the country using the strength of his arms, on his hand tricycle.

In celebration of this special month, we are launching Walkabout’s Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) Awareness Month. The campaign’s mission is two-fold – raise awareness of spinal cord injury, as well as raise funds for the SCI research that we are funding – Shirley Ryan AbilityLab, a clinical trial that tests 30 patients with spinal cord injuries, developing therapies to help their recovery of function. Watch the video to find out more, and if you feel inspired, please donate today.

The 2.6 Challenge

We’re joining thousands of UK charities to boost charity funds through tough fundraising times

 

With so many events and fundraising opportunities now cancelled due to the COVID19 pandemic, the UK’s different event organisers have come together and created a challenge for millions of us around the country to get behind and generate vital support for us and thousands of other UK charities.

The concept is simple. From the 26th of April for 5 days you are all challenged to do something active and creative, and ask your friends to donate £26 to a fundraising page you’ll create. There are no rules besides the government restrictions, but you should make your challenge related to the number 26 or 2.6. Perhaps you could walk around your house 26 times in a hand-made superhero costume or bake 26 muffins?!

If 2.6 million people raise £26 each, then that will generate the same £67m that would have been raised at the London Marathon, a vital source of funds that many charities relied upon which had to be postponed.

Many of us have been inspired by the story of a 99-year-old veteran who has raised millions by walking around his garden. Could you follow in his footsteps?

Of course, if you’d prefer to simply donate £26 then that’s just as welcome. But this is a great opportunity to motivate ourselves and our families to think up one thing a bit creative and get active for a good cause.

 

Become a Walkabout Hero in the 2.6 Challenge

Many charities will be promoting this campaign so how do you know where to send your money?

1. Dream up your 2.6 challenge

2. Donate to our cause or start your very own fundraising campaign Donate to our cause or start your very own fundraising campaign using one of the two channels below!

Please ensure you use one of these two fundraising channels to set up your own fundraising page. Search for “Walkabout Foundation UK” and get started! Both channels are waiving their fees so 100% of all donations come to us.

3. Ask all your friends and family to donate to your fundraising page by sending them the link and challenge them to do their own 2.6 Challenge

4. Complete your challenge

5. Share photos or videos of your challenge on social media with #TwoPointSixChallenge #WalkaboutHero and tag @WalkaboutOrg on Instagram and Twitter, and @WalkaboutFoundation on Facebook.

Thank you so much for supporting us during these difficult times! If you have any questions or need help with the fundraising idea, please get in touch with us on info@walkaboutfoundation.org or visit The 2.6 Challenge website.

 

 

 

Walkabout Returns to Northern Uganda

  It’s been 7 years since the South Sudanese Civil War, which has caused nearly two million refugees to flee to Northern Uganda. Life in the refugee camps of Bidibidi, Palorinya, and Adjumani is very tough; yet, it is even harder for those with disabilities. That is why last week, thanks to Euromonitor International, Walkabout […]

110 kids in Venezuela received the gift of mobility

Thanks to your generosity last Christmas, we were able to raise enough funds to send a container of 110 paediatric wheelchairs to Venezuela, which have just recently been distributed to the neediest of kids around the country. Children and their families came from all over the nation, travelling up to 2 days in order to receive their very first wheelchair ever.

It has been an incredible team effort that was made possible thanks to our local partners, Chamos Charity and Fundaprocura in Caracas. We would also like to say a HUGE THANK YOU to all of you who generously donated to our last holiday campaign.

Annual Report 2018

WF Annual Report 2018