A fellow Peace Corps Volunteer and friend (even after I became “that girl”), Arwen, had a younger sister, Eleanor, who was confined to a wheelchair, and died unexpectedly not too long before Arwen joined the Peace Corps and came to Jordan. She and her family run a private operating foundation called Eleanore’s Project, which was already distributing wheelchairs to needy children in Peru. As a Peace Corps Volunteer in special education, Arwen established Eleanore’s Project in Jordan, and has been back every August since to follow up with the kids they’ve already helped, and to help more kids.
I went down to Madaba after school today to see Arwen and her team in action, and I am so impressed with the work they’re doing! Just before they came to Jordan, Arwen and her parents were at a conference on communication techniques for the disabled, and at the end of the conference, they went around to all the vendors to ask if there were any leftover products they didn’t want to lug home with them and would like to donate to needy children in Jordan. The vendors did their obligatory spiel about how next year’s models would be much better, but Arwen and her mother knew that even an outdated model would be more than what most of their kids in Jordan even knew existed. They came to Jordan with a treasure trove of communication aides, and that’s primarily what they were working on with this trip.
Imagine being 17 years old and never having been able to say a work. This was the story of Yusef, a very bright, alert kid they’ve seen many times, who went on new medication in the last year that relaxed his muscles enough that he can now speak for the first time in his 17 years. Another girl was given a wheelchair last year, and at eight years old, finally learned to hold up her own head … sort of. This time around, Eleanore’s Project gave her labels to put on her table to indicate “yes” and “no” by gestures of her hands. That kind of control of her gross motor skills will take some practice, but she was certainly able to answer questions by looking very distinctly at one label or the other. Eventually, her family will be able to add more icons to her tray for more nuanced communication.
Arwen, I applaud you with all my heart! You are doing truly important, incredible work!
…and an old friend.
I also accompanied the Eleanore’s Project team on a visit to the family of a Madaba shopkeeper who was good friends with many Peace Corps Volunteers. Yusef, in fact, is the one who sold me the locally hand-embroidered vest I gave to my godson, Nathan, which he insisted on wearing constantly for weeks!