To Tanzania with Love | The Laurita Spina Bifida Project wants to donate wheelchairs

“How sad it is that we give up on people who are just like us.” — Fred Rogers (“Mr. Rogers”)

I don’t really remember what it’s like not being able to walk. As parental anecdotes recall, I was about two years old when I took my first steps. My parents were overjoyed, of course, but probably more than most parents, because I have spina bifida. According to my doctors at the time, I wasn’t supposed to be able to walk.

I may not remember what it was like crawling around the house or not being able to stand up, but, at age 30 now, I am beginning to grasp what it means to have limited mobility. My knees and back hurt constantly, and my wheelchair is getting much more mileage than it used to.

As I recently learned through a good friend I’ve never met, there are people in Tanzania, and in many other countries, who do not know the privilege of owning a wheelchair— what a blessing it is to have the equipment to facilitate mobility.

Little did I know until these past few weeks, that there are people on the other side of the world who would give anything to have the freedom I am often complaining about— the freedom to move.

That’s why my non-profit organization, The Laurita Spina Bifida Project, has offered to help the Association for Spina Bifida And Hydrocephalus Tanzania (ASBAHT) by raising funds so they can purchase wheelchairs, walkers, crutches, and a prosthetic leg for a young girl with spina bifida.

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Image courtesy Sifa Sylvia, ASBAHT 

A shifting perspective

It really gives me pause to reflect on how grateful I am for my “inconveniences.”

Over there, where my friend lives, people aren’t griping because someone took the accessible parking space. Or because their wheelchair won’t fit in their friend’s car when she offers to give me a ride.

They don’t complain about these problems because they don’t exist. Because access to the mobility devices they need doesn’t exist.

Many moms of children with spina bifida and hydrocephalus must push their children in strollers instead of carrying them. If they don’t have access to the brain surgery to have a shunt placed, the children’s heads grow until the parents can no longer carry them. Even these strollers are very hard to come by. As for me, I am only vaguely reminded I have a shunt in my head when the weather changes and I feel a slight headache.

This holiday season, I am fully committed to making the freedom of mobility a reality and not just a dream for at least several people in the Tanzanian spina bifida community…people who are much like me.

Maybe this will make a huge, life-altering difference for them. Maybe it won’t. All I know is, everyone needs someone in their life who refuses to give up on them.

I have you guys. Now, it’s my turn to be that person for somebody else.

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Image courtesy Sifa Sylvia, ASBAHT 

How you can help

What we need, first and foremost, is monetary donations. Whether it’s $5 or $500, every dollar makes a big impact when you add it all up. Trust me on this! How incredible is it that for the price of a latte macchiato you bring us one step closer to giving a deserving human being the gift of mobility?

 

Here’s a rough estimate of what each item costs, in U.S. dollars:

• Wheelchairs – $140.00 each

  • Walkers – $70.00 each

• A prosthetic leg for a youth with spina bifida – $460.00

Other ways to help out

If you own a company or know of a company or organization that might be interested in partnering with us to help raise the funds, please reach out to me at laurita.tellado@gmail.com. I truly believe “it takes a village,” and you are all my shining example of that!

Consider this campaign for your company’s end-of-year charitable contributions. Every donation is tax-deductible.

Also, since there are just so many wonderful social good campaigns during this time of the year, we need your help with getting the word out. Please, post to Facebook, Tweet, share, blog, Pin, Instagram post, etc.! There is truly no action that is too small to make a difference.

Please share / post using the hashtags #TheLSBProject , #SpinaBifida, and #Give5ToThrive (because we want to encourage that no amount is too small!).

Keep up with this campaign by following and connecting with us on social media:

The Laurita Spina Bifida Project on Facebook

@TheLSBProject on Twitter 

@TheLSBProject on Instagram

Remember what it’s all about

Finally, keep in your mind and heart that we are doing this to pay it forward. We have been so Blessed throughout this entire process, and I’m grateful for each and every person who has been part of The Laurita Spina Bifida Project’s journey thus far.

In the words of my friend Sifa of Tanzania, the angel behind-the-scenes who has put me in contact with the ASBAHT: “It will be an honor for ASBAHT to partner with you or any other organization or individuals out there with the heart to help the forgotten children, youth, and adults living with SBH in Tanzania.”

Thank you, Sifa. We’ll do our best.

Love,

Laurita ♥

Your Shoes are Killing Me

 

One of the definitive moments of the feature film, “Sex and the City,” shows protagonist Carrie Bradshaw entering the large closet of her would-be new apartment. As the lights flicker on, she takes in the size of it (really, it’s ginormous) and imagines all of the designer shoes she will fill it with.

I cringe whenever I watch that scene, as much as I love that film (can you say, “guilty pleasure”?).

Because I would never find enough “sexy” shoes to fill that closet with, even if I could afford them all.

Because the shoe industry has neglected to make shoes for women like me. Women with small feet. Women with spina bifida

For me, an assertive invitation of “Let’s go shoe shopping” from Mami evokes feelings of being a lamb dragged off to the slaughterhouse.

I’ve been that girl— the one who has broken down in the size 5 aisle of Payless, or many a shoe store. Because they don’t carry anything smaller for me

Indeed, some of my cutest “girly” shoes are in children’s sizes. And yes, they’re flats

I can’t wear heels unless they are even. None of those stiletto-style heels or wedges— even the shortest heels will have me teetering off-balance within seconds of standing.

 

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One of the few pairs of shoes in my closet that have short heels. I wore this outfit to a vintage-themed event. When I posted this as my profile pic a while back, I received compliments on my cute pose. Little does anyone probably realize I am grasping at the tree to keep from stumbling.

 

As I visit shopping malls and see signs indicating accessible entrances and restrooms, and ramps conveniently placed across from accessible parking areas, I am reminded of how far we’ve come as a society that is striving to welcome people with spina bifida and other disorders.

As I scour the ladies’ footwear section of any major department store, I am cruelly reminded of how far we still need to go. 

Indeed, I think my gender makes things worse for me as a shoe consumer. Men can get away with wearing more comfortable shoes, and even dress shoes don’t have heels. In fact, they could probably get away with wearing the same pair of shoes for a week straight, and no one would be the wiser.

The entire culture of being a woman in the 21st century is centered around footwear. “I don’t know if I have shoes that will match this outfit!” “Let’s go shoe shopping this weekend.” “Oh, my shoes are killing me, and I didn’t bring rescue shoes.” 

Guess what? Your “rescue shoes” are what I would wear to a social function. For me, there is no such thing as rescue shoes, because I cannot wear the shoes you need so badly to be rescued from. 

I can recall so many occasions on which I’ve attended parties with girlfriends. Near the end of the night, they are complaining about their shoes. “God, my shoes are KILLING me, Laurita! You are so lucky you get to use that wheelchair. Can I borrow it?”

No, you may not borrow my chair, because it is not a one-time deal. With this wheelchair, (which I use often for events, especially when I have to resort to wearing uncomfortable boots to match an outfit) comes a lifetime of regret. A lifetime of envy, resentment, and anger, because I cannot wear the shoes that are killing you right now. Because I wasn’t granted the luxury of being able to wear strappy heels that I will remove in less than two hours to dance barefoot on the dance floor after my feet have blistered.

Because as much as I hate to admit it, especially to myself, I LOVE the shoes that every woman loves— the strappy, shiny heels that you seem to glide effortlessly in, while I stumble clumsily in my flat boots.

Because Fate long ago decided that I do not get to live the Carrie Bradshaw fantasy for one lousy night, because that’s life.

Oh, your shoes are killing you? Then by all means, be my guest and remove them. You know what? They’re killing me, too. 

To the Woman who Aborted Her Baby with Spina Bifida

 

Dear Woman,

First off, let me say that I am not writing this on an impulse. In fact, I have given this a lot of thought and have decided to give this situation a “grace period” in which I could cool off, reflect, cry, pray, gain perspective from others in your situation, and allow myself enough time in which to answer you without anger or bitterness.

Of course, this time has allowed me to be more merciful and fair to you. But please know that I needed this time as much as you did. It’s not easy to for me to process my emotions about an issue that is so personal to me.

But, you E-mailed me asking for advice and answers. After choosing to terminate your pregnancy of a child with spina bifida, you want my advice, my insight, my wisdom, on how to have a “healthy” baby.

How’s this?

I have nothing to offer you. No advice, no answers, no wisdom, no tips, no magic crystal ball to predict what your next child will be like. 

My first instinct, upon reading your E-mail to me, was to hate you. After all, you managed to break down wall after wall of cautious, precarious illusion of self-esteem that I have spent 28 years painstakingly building. And for 28 years, it has worked for me.

 

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My Mami when she was about eight months pregnant with me. I am my parents’ only child.

 

When I first began blogging five years ago, I was moved by the many moms who contacted me. Most have had children with spina bifida, and some were pregnant with a baby with spina bifida, and wanted advice on how to handle the birth of a child with “special needs.” Or maybe they wanted solidarity; just the notion of knowing someone else out there in cyberspace can relate. I was elated at the idea of being able to help these women; give them a glimmer of hope for what the future held for their children. I offered them my friendship and unconditional support, and in return, I have been rewarded many times over by their reciprocity, their encouragement in my difficult times, and their genuine happiness at my triumphs.

Then I opened your E-mail. It’s as if five years’ worth of fortresses of support and encouragement from these moms and little white lies I told myself quickly eroded around me. I was exposed. Vulnerable. You shattered my illusion of invincibility.

I built a community of support and encouragement, of sharing knowledge along with the good, the bad, and the ugly about spina bifida. Women all over the world contact me to thank me for simply sharing my story, trivial as it may seem to many. Because the story of my normal yet fulfilling life gives them hope. It helps them to know their children can aspire to this.

And yet, I cannot help you, because you aborted your baby. You cut the common thread we would have shared. Now all I see is a large, dark chasm between us, because I am nothing like you. 

No, I am that child with spina bifida, the one you chose to abort. I look in the mirror, and I see the life that was discarded because it wasn’t deemed worthy of living.

And you ask me for advice because you don’t want your next baby to turn out like me.

And I am angry beyond words. Because in spite of all I have accomplished in my life, no one wants to have a child like me.

Not even my own mother would have wanted that. But she did.

 

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I was about 18 months old in this picture. Whether or not Mami envisioned having a baby with spina bifida, she and I have always been thick as thieves.

 

And that, plain and simple, is what frightens me the most. That maybe, just maybe, your story and my mother’s are not all that different. You each won the lottery that no one wants to win.

I wish you well…and maybe next time, take a second glance at your lottery ticket.

Day 256- Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D, Wisconsin)

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Baldwin staunchly supports stem cell research, and authored a groundbreaking piece of legislation, advancing paralysis research.

Behold: This is the last member of the Congressional Spina Bifida Caucus that I will be profiling– for now, at least. If you’re as politically illiterate as I once was, say, before the last presidential election, then you will probably join me in breathing a sigh of relief.

That being said, I am not close to being through with Washington. I have a lot to say to these politicians– a lot to ask of them, and also a lot to thank them for. But I do feel that it’s time to devote a little attention to other equally worthy heroes who are not in the political circuit. (Did I hear someone say “circus?”)

Yes, often, it is a circus. But everyone is passionate about something, and an individual’s passion is undoubtedly what triggers the idea of running for office in the first place.

Rep. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin is exactly the kind of person who ran for office to fight for what she believes in. She is a passionate advocate for civil rights for people with disabilities, and fully supports the Americans with Disabilities Act.

She’s also contributed, and in no small part, to advancing research into paralysis and its potential treatments. On March 30, 2009, President Obama signed a piece of legislation Congresswoman Baldwin sponsored into law– the Christopher and Dana Reeve Paralysis Act.

Rep. Baldwin has been a leader in getting Congress to lift the ban on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, as she recognizes the potential benefits it may have for people living and struggling with many disease and conditions, including paralysis.

She is a vocal activist for women’s rights and has spoken out against domestic violence through her backing of the Violence Against Women Act.

Congresswoman Baldwin is a member of the LGBT Equality Caucus, the Human Rights Caucus, and is on the Women’s Caucus, for which she serves as Vice Chair of the Health Care Task Force. She’s also a member of the National Organization for Women (NOW).

With all her astounding accomplishments thus far, it would be very easy to overlook the fact that she is “the first woman to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives from the state of Wisconsin”– and “the first, non-incumbent, openly gay person to serve in Congress.” Both are equally impressive achievements. Taken together in context, they make for a powerhouse woman! And boy, do I love profiling these powerhouses. I can’t wait to send her a letter! (I will be sending out the last batch of letters to Congress soon.)

Thank you all so much for putting up with my self-doubts about whether or not I could be a political reporter of sorts! Everyone has been truly supportive, and so far, no one has called me out saying that I should keep my day job– whatever that is. I really have enjoyed learning more about the political system, and delving deeply into what constitutes a typical workload for a member of Congress. It seems like a daunting job, to say the least, and I am very proud of all of the people who are smart enough and thick-skinned enough to take on the challenge in our name.

I realize now that the mild heat I have taken for my efforts with “Holdin’ Out for a Hero” is nothing compared to being constantly under fire while serving in public office. I have a new-found appreciation and respect for the men and women who are doing all the really hard work for us, and making a big difference in many areas.

There is one more lesson I have learned on this “sub-journey,” if you will (because it is only part of this bigger journey!). I used to see politics as very straightforward, and black-and-white. There was good or bad, there was no “average” politician. There was right or wrong. I now see that, on the vast spectrum from Conservatism to Liberalism, there are issues that many members of the same party will disagree on, and others that perhaps we could all agree on.

I hope you will notice that I have objectively criticized members of both parties for accepting such a cumbersome workload, instead of really focusing their efforts on two or three issues of great importance. My concern has always been, and will always be, that spina bifida is on the back-burner of the policy-making stove, when it is such a pressing issue in society that demands the attention and support of everyone.

Yes, I firmly believe that Congress members will initially choose two or three caucuses to be a part of because they are passionate about the issues that lie at the core of those committees. I’d say more than ten is far too much! And not having found a significant piece of the puzzle from any of our Congress members, it is my opinion that there is still very much to be desired in the area of making legislators care about the issues that genuinely affect all of us with spina bifida, and our families.

That, in and of itself, is the bottom line. We have to make them care.


Good Night, & Good Luck,

Laurita ♥

P.S. Please don’t take this to mean this is the end of “Holdin’ Out!” We’ve only just begun. Tune back in tomorrow– it seems I have some research to do.