Understanding the power of a wheelchair to change young lives in Argentina
Disabled children without a wheelchair have limited access to education and medical treatment. It’s why The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints partners with a local nongovernmental organization in Argentina to provide help.
BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA — Standing near a chapel belonging to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Paola Loza watched dozens of children move around the outdoor basketball court with the aid of new wheelchairs on Wednesday afternoon.
Loza was just 18 years old and single when her son, Juan Carlos, was born 14 years ago with half a body.
When her baby started crawling without the use of functioning legs, Loza’s father found his grandson a skateboard; with it Juan Carlos found mobility.
A few years later, Loza carried her son and his skateboard down her community’s dirt roads to the local school to register him for kindergarten. “I was told that without a wheelchair he could not attend,” Loza recalled.
Still watching Wednesday as other children are fitted for their own wheelchairs, Loza summarized the reality facing many with disabilities in this South American nation. “The wheelchair means respect,” she said.
Disabled children without a wheelchair have limited access to education and medical treatment, she said. They’s why a unique partnership between CILSA — a nongovernmental organization that works in Argentina for the full inclusion of people with disabilities — and Latter-day Saint Charities is so important, Loza said.
Silvia Carranza, CILSA president, and President Russell M. Nelson, the leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, spoke about the partnership during the wheelchair distribution event.
Argentina marks the fourth stop on President Nelson’s five-country, nine-day South American Ministry Tour. Traveling with his wife, Sister Wendy Nelson, and Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and his wife, Sister Mary Cook, President Nelson has visited Guatemala, Colombia, Ecuador and Argentina — meeting with dignitaries (including Colombian President Iván Duque and Ecuador President Lenín Moreno) and addressing large devotional congregations in each location. He is scheduled to complete the tour Sunday in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
“As CILSA’s president, I feel great pride in being able to introduce President Nelson to the activities that CILSA has been doing for the past 13 years with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” said Carranza. “I think it is a unique opportunity for him to meet us personally.”
Last year, Latter-day Saint Charities helped 53,800 improve mobility in 40 countries, according to the organization. Monthly wheelchair distributions occurred in Argentina — where the Church has 14 missions, 751 congregations and two temples.
Juan Carlos was one of 51 children to receive new wheelchairs Wednesday.
Also born with a disability that left her wheelchair-bound, Carranza now has one goal: “Nobody is left behind,” she said.
“It is very important for me because I am a person with a disability,” she said. “I lived through a lot of discrimination throughout my life.”
Gustavo Mernies, president of the Buenos Aires Argentina Belgrano Stake, said the church and CILSA are important partners. “What is my definition of this partnership? It is a miracle,” he said. “It allows us to reach out to people to help when they need it, how they need it.”
Mernies said Latter-day Saint Charities makes and individualizes the wheelchairs and CILSA distributes them in the nation where Argentine policy dictates that every wheelchair must be matched to an individual before it arrives in the country.
President Nelson — who was once honored by the government of Argentina for his pioneering efforts as a heart surgeon — shared his love for Argentina with more than 12,000 Latter-day Saints in Tecnópolis Arena Wednesday evening. A great privilege of life is “working, living, loving and choosing,” he said. “Please teach your children and also each other about the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Following a pattern set in the first stops of his ministry tour, President Nelson delivered a personalized address for members in the country in Castilian or standard Spanish.
Elder Cook told the congregation that he knows some will face challenges during mortality. “While we do not know all the answers, we do know important principles that allow us to face tragedies with faith and confidence that there is a bright future planned for each of us.”
The capacity congregation waved white handkerchiefs when the Nelsons and Cooks left the arena. To the delight of the audience, President Nelson pulled out his white handkerchief and waved back.
CILSA President Silvia Carranza was in the audience as a VIP guest. She said she felt great pride in the accomplishments of the 13-year partnership between Latter-day Saint Charities and her organization.
“Giving to others means seeing Jesus Christ in the other person,” she said. “When we see Jesus Christ in the other person, it is impossible not to give.”