A compassionate crew on a mission of mercy

Posted in: Society
By Kaye Collier
Feb 14, 2013 - 9:51:28 AM

THE CREWWhen Karla Ondina Ortega Barahona, a native of Honduras, climbed aboard the cargo train, she never imagined that before reaching her destination, she would become disabled. At one point, the train lurched forward, throwing her beneath it and severing one of her legs.
In these circumstances, many of us would descend into self-pity and give up on life. Not Karla. She teaches a Sunday School class and is studying law in order to help her country’s poor.
Her walker allows her to remain mobile, but after receiving a P.E.T. (personal energy transportation), a three-wheeled, hand-propelled vehicle constructed by a team of volunteers in the United States, she can travel the streets of her village much more easily and quickly.
Karla is one of an estimated 600 million people worldwide who live with disabilities. And at least 80 percent of these are in poverty-stricken countries.
P.E.T.® International is a global charity addressing the needs of those who are unable to walk because of disability, impairment or injury. The organization was established by three Missouri men in 1994 in response to the tragic loss of mobility in Zaire as a result of landmines and polio.
The first field tests in 1995 proved successful, and the project has since continued and flourished. Today, there are 28 local shops, or affiliates, nationwide.
In the summer of 2004, one of the founders visited a friend, Kirby Goering, in Moundridge, Kansas; and from this visit was born the 10th PET Project affiliate.
Which brings us to a large, well-equipped metal shop in Marlow where four area retirees, two from Marlow and the others from Duncan, labor from two to five mornings a week providing vital parts for the PETS produced in Moundridge.
Lower (pronounced Lauer) Colley of Marlow was browsing through Farm Show magazine back in 2011 and came across an article about the hand-cranked wooden wheelchairs and the volunteers who build them. He and another retiree, Joe Culbertson, visited the affiliate in Kansas that September and signed on to provide the wooden parts and plastic handles for all of the PETS constructed in Moundridge.
That December, the two local men took the first 25 set of components to Goering.
They started with only 25, Colley said, as a test-run to determine if they wanted to continue their involvement and “because we wanted to see if they liked our quality of work.”
The answers were yes, and yes. ALL SMILES
Because of other commitments, Culbertson has been unable, in recent months, to work with the project as often as he did initially; however, by January 2012, two other men, Duncan residents Hugh Gardenhire and Craig Bates, became a part of the local PET team. Then a few weeks ago, Jerry Williams of Marlow joined their ranks.
All of the men except Bates, who is 66, are in their 70s. And are they ever a busy bunch. In the past year, the four have provided parts for 375 of the hand-driven vehicles.
The woodworkers
A Kansas native, Colley worked for TWA as an aircraft mechanic/cabinetmaker for 18 years until the airline closed, then served as superintendent for Royal Seal Construction in Bartonville, Texas, until his retirement.
“Long as I can remember,” he noted, “I’ve been woodworking.” After a great deal of nagging and wheedling, his dad finally bought him his first lathe when he was 14, he recalled.
Gardenhire, who is retired from Koch Oil Company, indicated that he had dabbled in woodworking sporadically through the years. He is a native of Elmore City.
Bates was a machinist, and later a CDL instructor, for Halliburton prior to his retirement. A native Texan, he has lived in Duncan since 1973.
Williams, a retired Army major, arrived in Oklahoma in 1968, when the military stationed him at Fort Sill. “And I’ve been calling Oklahoma home ever since,” he reported. He has enjoyed woodworking as a hobby—“as much as you can have one in the Army,” he said.
The pay and the process
The labor force for the PET Project, both locally and nationwide, is entirely volunteer. The local team joked about the “pay” and “retirement benefits” they receive, but on a more serious note, admitted that they reap rewards far beyond anything that the workaday world could possibly provide.
“It’s great to do the Lord’s work, and it gives us satisfaction,” Gardenhire commented.
“That’s what it’s all about,” Bates added, “helping people who can’t help themselves.”
And since the recipients cannot afford to pay for the PETS, they receive them free-of-charge.
“People don’t understand that we donate our time,” Colley observed.
The local project is funded entirely through donations, and all contributions go through the local program’s sponsor, Ray of Hope Church south of Duncan, where three of the men are members. And since the church is a 301(c)(3) entity, all donations are tax-deductible.
The wood is ordered in large quantities, delivered to the shop and cut to specification.
The Marlow team is also in charge of boring holes lengthwise through the tough plastic handles in preparation for use in the PETs. Doing this properly is not an easy task, but the guys have perfected the art—so well, in fact, that they supply these components for vehicles constructed by an affiliate in southern Texas, as well as the one in Kansas.
They have also been given a new task by Moundridge.
Innovations were recently introduced that make the seats more comfortable, more stable, and adjustable in regards to positioning. One of the new features is the addition of flat metal bars that run from beneath the seat to partway up the back. The local workers have been asked by PET Kansas to cut these bars to specification.
The components—wooden, plastic and metal—are sent to Moundridge in lots of 50 through a retired veterinarian in Kansas who travels to Marlow regularly and hauls them to Moundridge in his Honda minivan.
Colley indicated that the crew here likes to keep 50 lots in reserve in case of illness or any other unforeseen circumstance.
“It’s not a regular 9-to-5 job,” Bates said. Workdays are scheduled according to need. Gardenhire has come up with some techniques that allow the men to perform their tasks more proficiently; and as a result, their work time has decreased tremendously, Bates noted.
The PETS are assembled and completed at Moundridge. Colley pointed out that inmates at Ellsworth State Prison in Kansas do all the welding.
The PET Project
The PET is a sturdy, three-wheeled vehicle that can be operated by a man, woman or child who is mobility-impaired.
The hand-propelled units come in adult and child sizes, and a “pull-PET” accommodates those who lack adequate upper-body strength to crank the handle. More than 30,000 PET vehicles have been built and distributed worldwide since production began in 1994.
A compartment behind the seat capable of hauling food, produce, tools or merchandise enables the recipient to complete errands and in many cases, even to earn a living by selling goods from the storage area. The conveyance may also enable the recipient to earn a livelihood by providing a means of transportation to a job.
The PET is designed for use in the world’s most remote regions, many of which lack even electricity and roads. Because of its sturdy wood-and-steel frame and solid, puncture-proof tires, the vehicle is ideal for such areas.
But even the most solidly-built conveyance can fall victim to wear-and-tear. This one, however, has interchangeable parts that can be used in reconstructing or repairing another PET. A replacement plan is also in place for those that must be retired.
Volunteer labor and efficient purchasing practices enable each PET to be built at a cost of only $250.
To date, PETS have been sent to at least 92 foreign countries in Central and South America, Africa, eastern Europe, Asia and the South Pacific.
The vehicles are sometimes transported, free-of-charge, on U.S. Naval vessels with sufficient cargo space; but whenever this isn’t possible, shipping costs are quite high, Colley said.
Donations to the local PET project defray the cost of the materials used; therefore, contributions are always appreciated.
Anyone who wishes to donate to this worthy cause may send a check to Ray of Hope Church, P.O. Box 7, Comanche, OK 73529. Please designate the money is to go to the PET Project. To make a cash contribution, please call Colley at 641-6081 or 658-6750. Through this means, a receipt for tax purposes can be supplied.