The Cal Poly Wheelchair Foundation held its Grand Opening of “Viva el Peru” exhibit on Jan. 8 in the Cal Poly Performing Arts Center. The exhibit, which is designed to raise funds to purchase wheelchairs for people in third world countries, featured the work of photographers Kori Savoie, Kali Bills and Noelle Luchino.
Photographer Savoie, an art and design senior, said she found it rewarding to provide help to people in countries without health care. “The people are kind and full of life. Even though they may not have much, they are generous,” she said.
Bills, another project photographer and business senior, commented on the strong sense of appreciation from wheelchair recipients. She remembered a man, unsure he would even get a wheelchair, continuously thanking her. “He had a nice, genuine spirit,” she said.
Sema Alptekin, industrial and manufacturing engineering professor and director of the Honors Program at Cal Poly was one of the many spectators at the event. “They are not only raising money to help the community, they are also learning while they help. I wasn’t expecting to be so touched,” she said.
The foundation was founded by Kenneth E. Behring in 2000 as a nonprofit organization dedicated to fulfilling the mobile needs of people disabled by disease, war and natural causes. The goal of the foundation is to deliver a wheelchair to any person in the world who needs one, but cannot afford one. According to its mission statement, the foundation aims to deliver hope, mobility and freedom to those who would not otherwise have it.
Lynn Metcalf, advisor to the Cal Poly Wheelchair Foundation, said the event provides an opportunity for photography students to tell the story through a different medium. “A picture can make a connection that words alone cannot,” she said.
The Cal Poly Wheelchair Foundation consists of 28 students; it is the first chapter made completely of students in the nation. The club is a yearlong project associated with a business course, which is open to all Cal Poly students. Many work for the foundation as a part of their senior project.
Since it began at the Cal Poly in 2001, the foundation has raised $340,000 worth of aid and distributed 2,930 wheelchairs to Peru, Ethiopia, Thailand, Guatemala, Belize, Argentina and Malawi.
Several fundraising functions are held throughout the year with the help of eight local Rotary clubs and corporate sponsorships.
These events include a Halloween Movie Night at the Fremont Theatre, a photography exhibit at the Art Center in San Luis Obispo and an annual Gift of Mobility Gala Dinner and Auction at the Cliffs Resort.
In 2007, the foundation raised $90,000 to distribute 260 wheelchairs to Lima, Cusco and Puno, Peru and an additional 100 wheelchairs in Malawi, Africa. The photography at the exhibit features images of the wheelchair distribution process in Peru last summer.
Project manager Helya Naghibi, who went to Peru with the foundation, spoke of its culture, which she said captivated her with its natural beauty. “It’s not just about fundraising; it’s also about spreading the word for third world countries. We take simple luxuries for granted. (Through our donations) we are giving the gift of mobility,” she said.
“Viva el Peru” will continue to be on display through Jan. 18 at the Performing Arts Center. Photography is available for purchase. Proceeds benefit the disabled who need wheelchairs in Oaxaca, Mexico, where the team plans to raise $84,000 for wheelchairs and $25,000 for cataract surgeries this year.