For three decades, a disabled man living in Oaxaca, Mexico, named Francisco didn’t have a wheelchair. A train accident left him paralyzed, and he was too poor to afford one. So when Cal Poly students delivered a wheelchair to him in July, Francisco broke down crying.
He wasn’t the only one in tears.
About 30 people around him, including the group of Cal Poly students, got teary eyed, too.
A Cal Poly team of about 25 students spent last school year raising $63,000 that paid for the 840 new wheelchairs for people in Oaxaca – one of Mexico’s poorest states.
Cal Poly coordinated the project with the nonprofit Wheelchair Foundation, based in Danville, which leads an international effort to deliver a wheelchair to anyone anywhere who needs one but can’t afford the cost.
Photos taken by Cal Poly students of people in Oaxaca receiving their chairs will be displayed in October at the San Luis Obispo Art Center.
“My goal was to observe the faces and expressions people had when they received their chairs,” said Sara Tollefson, one of the student photographers. “It’s something that not only helps them but also their families who literally have carried them around for so many years or had to watch them crawl.”
Another student photographer on the trip, Gregory Smith, said he sought to capture various aspects of life in Oaxaca.
“I tried to shoot pictures that give a grasp of the people and the mood of Oaxaca,” Smith said.
Those include a small girl in a beautiful pink dress on a dusty street and a mustached man sitting on a step gazing out at a crowd as well as the joyous deliveries of the wheelchairs.
The 10 students from Cal Poly who made the nine-day trip will long remember the poverty, including children in orphanages, which was heartbreaking, they say.
“You can see the hardship everywhere, but you also see a pride and joy in people’s faces,” Tollefson said.
Last year, the Cal Poly students hosted numerous fundraisers, including art shows and a movie night.
They also have raised another $16,500 to spend toward wheelchairs they’ll deliver in Panama this June.
“It’s by far the best and most rewarding project I’ve done at Cal Poly,” said Helya Naghibi, the university’s student project coordinator. “The amount of time people put into this was amazing.”
Club adviser Lynn Metcalf said that Cal Poly’s wheelchair project has existed for eight years.
But the club likely won’t continue after this year because of the massive demands of time and effort required of students and faculty.
However, students still will be raising money to buy wheelchairs for the people in Panama to deliver this June, Metcalf said.
“It has been a wonderful way to interact with students from across the university and build community,” he said.
Oct. 15 through 25 at San Luis Obispo Art Center, 1010 Broad St. Opening reception with wine and cheese on Oct. 15 from 6 to 9 p.m. The free event is open to the public. Donations suggested; prints for sale. Proceeds benefit the Wheelchair Foundation.