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MATAMOROS — Cerebral palsy left Sarahi Hernandez Prado, 20, wheelchair bound since childhood. She has been disabled her whole life, but recently she received a new lease on life, thanks to the Personal Energy Transport (PET) hand-powered cart the PET Project Rio Grande Valley in Mission, and Comunidades Unidas Pro Salud (CUPS), in McAllen, gave to her.
“I want a PET so that I can sell things and be more mobile,” she said. “More than anything I want to be able to help myself, and with a PET I will be able to go places and do things I cannot do in a wheelchair.”
PETs are hand-cranked three-wheeled carts that help disabled people in Mexico navigate rough and unpaved roads, which is difficult to impossible with a normal wheelchair. PETs have wheelbarrow-like wheels.
Sarahi Hernandez Prado’s mother, San Juana Hernandez Prado, said she was hopeful for her daughter’s new independence.
“Sarahi uses her wheelchair at home and to go out. Having a PET is going to help her a lot because she has expectations of being more independent,” San Juana Hernandez Prado said. “She wants to sell things such as chicharrones, chips, soft drinks and jewelry that she’s been making to support herself.”
PET Project RGV coordinator Stan Marley said a virtual army of volunteers comprised of Winter Texans, Lions Club members and church groups from all across the state, helps build and deliver hundreds of PETs to handicapped people south of the U.S. border.
Word about the project has spread throughout the state of Taumulipas.
Jose Manuel Abad Lopez, 59, a type II diabetic, said he wanted a PET cart ever since he first saw one.
“I want the PET cart because there are places that I cannot go with my wheelchair,” he said. “I can’t even go to the store because the wheels on my wheelchair do not work on bad roads or in the mud. The cart is more practical because it has wheels that will go where wheelchairs can’t,” he said.
Lopez’s left leg was amputated below the knee two years ago after a rusty staple in his leg caused an infection to set in. He has been wheelchair bound ever since. The father and grandfather of four recently received a new PET cart of his own.
He first learned about the carts by seeing other people in his neighborhood using them.
“So I asked them where they got them. They told me that there is a lady named Gabby who knows the people that make them in the U.S.,” he said. “I contacted her about four months ago and today I am getting my own cart.”
Marley and Louise Flippin, of CUPS, have delivered approximately 50 PETs to needy residents in the Mexican communities of Matamoros, Rio Bravo and Valley Hermoso. CUPS volunteers have been helping build PETs with Marley in his Mission workshop.
Flippin said CUPS is a Christian organization founded in 1989 to build/refurbish medical and educational facilities in northeastern Mexico. Recently, however, Flippin has used her contacts in Mexico to help Marley find worthy recipients for his PETs.
“CUPS used to work in Mexico with U.S. workgroups and Mexican community volunteers on construction projects, but it’s really difficult to do now,” Flippin said. “If we had the funds, we would continue to build but I have to tried to raise the money to cover the projects first. So what we continue to do is to work with PET project RGV and with the Rio Bravo Lions Club to deliver PETs, adult diapers, liquid nutrition for people that can’t chew, and other much needed items in the Valle Hermosa and Matamoros areas.”
The PET project’s latest volunteers are from Spring Branch Presbyterian Church in Houston. Kate Cross is one of the adult sponsors on the trip.
“We’re here with the PETs in Mission, building them for people in Mexico,” she said. “We have 10 people here working on the PETs, as well as another five people that are building benches for another project in Las Milpas, with the ARISE Group. We’ve built 18 benches and 16 PETs on the trip.
But the church group doesn’t go south of the border anymore due to violence, Cross said.
“Our church does not want us to take our youth into Mexico anymore, but we still want to serve these people — so that’s why we’re here,” she said.
For more information on PET Project RGV call Marley at 956-279-6816. For more information on CUPS, visit the website at www.cupsmission.org/.
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