Frank in his new wheelchair.


Before receiving a wheelchair, Solange used to drag herself using a make-shift knee-pad.


Solange tries out her new wheelchair.

There’s a Kinyarwandan phrase that Carolina Gonzalez-Bunster and her team from Walkabout Foundation will never forget: “seka cyane,” which means “big smiles.”

“Big smiles were exactly what we were greeted with everywhere we went,” says Carolina.

Carolina and the Walkabout team visited Rwanda to deliver 250 Rough Rider wheelchairs to patients living with disabilities that impact their mobility, in partnership with PIH’s Rwandan sister organization Inshuti Mu Buzima. These durable wheelchairs were designed especially for use in developing countries, with knobby tires for rough terrain and easily replaceable parts. The delivery was Walkabout’s second at a PIH site, following a distribution in Haiti last year. 

Read an excerpt from Carolina’s blog below. 

We started our trip at Rwinkwavu Hospital (which is operated in a partnership between PIH and the Government of Rwanda) on April 27th, 1.5 hours from Kigali, with a two and a half day training program that taught seven PIH therapists and doctors from different districts how to fit and adjust the Rough Rider wheelchairs and how to give the best care to patients with physical disabilities, particularly spinal cord injuries. 

Word spread around the villages and communities that Walkabout was at PIH distributing and donating wheelchairs. Before we knew it, we had lines of people showing up that had traveled hours and hours to be fitted into their new wheelchairs. 

One of those visitors was Frank. Frank has the biggest smile you've ever seen. He was born with a congenital birth defect which left him without the use of his legs. With no access to a wheelchair, Frank has spent years dragging himself along the ground in order to attend school. 

Despite such hardship, Frank wears a constant grin on his face and has an infectious giggle. Once fitted in his wheelchair, Frank proved to be a natural at pushing himself around. Having discovered the extraordinary freedom of mobility that his first wheelchair can bring him, the joy and hope on his face was overwhelming and priceless. 

Another patient that came that day was Solange. The first thing that struck us about her was how neatly and professionally dressed she was, which is no small feat for a woman who arrived at PIH dragging herself along the dirt road. Her left knee had a make-shift pad strapped around it to soften the impact of the ground as she dragged herself on the street.

Solange was also born with a congenital birth defect that led to a large growth protruding from her left leg as you can see in the photo. Furthermore, her legs never actually grew and have no strength or muscle, which has left her unable to walk. 

Solange was shy at first but once in her wheelchair, she could not contain her delight, and when she finally headed home in her new chair, she turned back over and over again to smile and wave and thank us. 

Butaro Hospital is an extraordinary new hospital built by Partners In Health. Walkabout's visit to Butaro turned into our busiest day with 12 individuals receiving their wheelchairs. 

Read more about Carolina’s time in Rwanda

Learn more about Walkabout Foundation.