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’!