She has short brown hair in the photograph. She’s wearing a white dress that reaches past her knees and she’s sitting in a new, red wheelchair — the first she’s ever had.
The photo of the girl, a 2-year-old from Oaxaca, Mexico, who was paralyzed from birth, is part of the Mano a Mano, hand in hand, fundraising exhibit by the Cal Poly Wheelchair Foundation opening tonight at the San Luis Obispo Art Center.
The exhibit is one of the closing events for the Foundation, which has given more than 4,000 wheelchairs to impoverished people in Africa, Asia, South and North America in the past eight years.
Business administration senior Helya Naghibi has served as project manager for a year.
“I never thought I’d have the opportunity to impact someone’s life as much and I’m very lucky to be part of it,” she said.
The project began in 2001 when Kenneth Behring, founder of the Wheelchair Foundation, spoke to a group of 230 Cal Poly students and offered them a chance to get involved. Marketing Area Chair Lynn Metcalf of the Oralea College of Business, was at the presentation and saw the benefit for the Cal Poly campus.
It would let students learn and apply marketing skills while they helped others, she said. “It offered us the opportunity to make an impact on people’s life.”
Metcalf started the Cal Poly Wheelchair Foundation with an initial team of nine students. In the eight years that the Foundation has operated, some 140 students have participated in raising money and delivering wheelchairs to poor communities.
Raising awareness has been a focus for the Foundation and the group has looked to students and the greater community to spread the word.
The photographs taken by two students from the Foundation’s trip to Oaxaca will be available for purchase at tonight’s free exhibit.
“I feel that by putting on this photography exhibit, we are spreading an awareness,” Sara Tollefson, one of the photographers, said.
Tollefson, an art and design senior with a photography concentration, tried to capture the everyday experiences of the people.
“There are people with lives much different than our own. These people do not have the many luxuries we have, such as running water,” she said.
Greg Smith, also an art and design senior with a photography concentration, is displaying 20 of the 40 photos in the exhibit. Smith said he was surprised by the poverty.
“Everything people owned was with them,” he said, recalling a market the group visited.
The wheelchairs come in two versions, an all-terrain model with mountain bike tires and then a standard model with hard, rubber wheels. The students, recognizing the poverty of the people, also provided a repair kit.
“The chairs come with self-repair tools that can take care of minor problems, if necessary,” Naghibi said.
The Foundation is planning a final trip to deliver wheelchairs. Money raised from donations and sales of prints will go to wheelchair donations in Panama, Naghibi said.
Even though the Foundation is ending, its impact and lessons will continue, she said. “It has changed countless lives. Just because it is coming to a close at Cal Poly, doesn’t mean it will be forgotten.”