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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

Designer Closet Sale 2109!

In June 2019, Walkabout opened its very own week-long pop-up shop on King’s Road! The Designer Closet Sale sold pre-loved items donated by generous donors, with at least 50% of proceeds going to our projects. We raised an incredible £70,ooo gross and over £41,000 net, which is the equivalent of 164 wheelchairs!

We are so grateful to everyone who helped make this event such a success! From everyone who donated items, to those who volunteered their free time to help us organize and run the shop, and all the people that came along to do some guilt-free shopping for a good cause.

140 paediatric wheelchairs in the Dominican Republic

In May we provided 140 paediatric wheelchairs to children in desperate need in the Dominican Republic – all thanks to the amazing fundraising efforts of Laura Porcella Mayol at the Berlin Marathon in 2018. Our team, alongside Laura herself, our partner teams, and a group of local star volunteers, personally adjusted every chair to make sure that each one was comfortable, functional and safe – sometimes taking up to 3 hours on a single chair! The majority of the children we met had never had a wheelchair before, and for them this gift represented a world of new opportunities: to go to school; to play with friends; to be independent for the very first time.

Inspirational fundraisers like Laura and supporters of our cause that make our work possible. On behalf of the people whose lives were changed, thank you!

 

340 Wheelchairs In Argentina!

In July 2018, 4 Walkabout Heroes, Matias, Diego, Will and Lucas climbed over 19,000 feet to reach the peak of Mount Kilimanjaro. Their extraordinary campaign, thanks to hugely generous donations, raised over $76,000, enough to send an entire container of 340 rough terrain, locally repairable wheelchairs to Argentina!

Over the course of 10 days, in what has been our largest distribution ever to that country, Team Walkabout, Diego and our local partner traveled to 6 different locations to personally fit each chair and train the new users in wheelchair skills, ensuring they learnt how to use and look after their new device. Over the course of the trip, our team met people with incredible and heart wrenching stories, and the difference these wheelchairs will make to every person’s life is unique.

You too can become a star fundraiser and make our next life-transforming wheelchair distribution come true! Be inspired and become a Walkabout Hero, or simply donate today.

Sending Refugee Children To School

Why I Fundraise

Nikki Emerson

Para-Athlete and Non-Executive Director of London Marathon Events

“Since retiring from elite athletics I find that having a goal to train for makes me exercise even when I’ve had a long day at work or a big night out and all I want to do is curl up in front of the TV. There’s nothing quite like taking part in events like London Marathon or RideLondon, with hundreds of thousands of people lining the streets cheering for you to go that bit faster – I’ve done around 30 marathons and I keep saying I won’t do another, then somehow find myself on the start line again!

I feel very privileged to have access to a racing wheelchair and a handcycle so I can keep taking on these challenges, which is why I raise money for Walkabout to help provide other wheelchair users with mobility equipment that will hopefully give them the freedom to take part in sport, or even just to get around independently.”

 

Arielle Rausin

Team USA Para-Athlete and Walkabout Ambassador

“I fundraise for Walkabout because I strongly believe mobility is a human right. Mobility provides people with independence and bodily autonomy, two things essential towards living a healthy and happy life. Wheelchairs provide so much freedom for their users; I can’t imagine life without mine. My hope is that one day we will live in a world where everyone has the mobility device they need and deserve.”

 

Nataliia Vodolazkina

Paris Marathon 2019

“When I signed up to participate in the Paris Marathon for Walkabout Foundation, my goal was to challenge my abilities, but raising money for their cause has been a great motivation throughout the whole training process. I have family members that require mobility aids and I’m therefore aware of the difficulties they face on an everyday basis. Thankfully we are able to provide them with everything they need, but I would like to have a chance to help people with mobility disabilities around the world who are not so lucky by fundraising for Walkabout. I think it’s essential to raise awareness about the work that Walkabout does and I am so excited to be a part of it.”

 

Merren Wallace

Walkabout Programmes Manager and Prudential RideLondon-Surrey 100 2018.

“I’d never done anything like a marathon or cycling sportive before I did RideLondon. When I signed up, I’d worked at Walkabout for 3 years and seen many people complete amazing challenges for us – and experienced first-hand the effect that their fundraising had on people in desperate need all over the world. I’d been lucky enough to meet hundreds of children and adults who wouldn’t have had mobility if it hadn’t been for the people that pushed themselves to raise money for our cause – so I decided it was my turn!

Training was hard, especially because I was travelling a lot with work, so had to spend a lot of time in Haitian and Kenyan gyms! But it was great to have the motivation to keep going – partly because I knew how hellish riding 100 miles without training would be; and partly because I had in mind the people I’d be helping by doing it. The race itself was incredible (despite torrential rain for 90 out of the 100 miles!) and I’ll be doing it again this year – I’d recommend doing something like this to everyone!”

 

Beth King

Harry Butterwick

Paris Marathon 2019

“Giving mobility is something you can’t put a price on – the gift brings freedom, dignity, joy and so much more. I am so proud and excited to be raising money for Walkabout Foundation, a fantastic charity which gives gifts like this all year round. Running a marathon is such an apt fundraiser for this charity given that that act of running is all about mobility. For me it is a privilege that I am physically able to run a marathon and I am extremely happy that my ability to run, will in turn, raise money to award the gift of a wheelchair, a gift of mobility, to so many that are in need.”

Suzanne Foley

Caroline Caliri

Bridget Seay

Betsy Caliri

Berlin Marathon 2019

“We chose to run for Walkabout because we are incredibly inspired by the foundation’s mission. As athletes, we sometimes take our own mobility for granted; injuries are a sobering reminder of this. Each of us was blown away by the statistics of people in developing countries who don’t have access to wheelchairs when needed. We want to help bring awareness to this issue and tackle the problem by providing more wheelchairs. We believe everyone has the right to MOVE despite any barriers that life throws in our way!”

Walkabout Returns To Tackle Refugee Crisis

We have just returned from Northern Uganda, one of the poorest parts of the country and the heart of one of the biggest humanitarian crisis in the world. With hundreds of people crossing the border every day, fleeing conflict and famine in South Sudan, Uganda is now host to over 1 million refugees.

Last year, we distributed 290 wheelchairs to refugees and local Ugandans that are currently subject to enormous pressure in what is a naturally deprived and low resource environment. This year, thanks again to Euromonitor International, we returned to take our mission one step further. As well as distributing a further 300 wheelchairs, we trained 13 local volunteers, many of them refugees themselves, in how to provide and maintain wheelchairs in a safe and sustainable way.

The possibilities for change in this region are endless. Now that we have started to create a skilled team of locals, we can continue to make a difference all year round, but we need your help to make this change last.