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Walkabout Supporter, Kirk In The New York Times

Click below to read Kirk’s story and get inspired! 

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.

Walkabout Wheelchair Centre – New Beginnings

 

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!

 

Ananya’s Story