Disability Won’t Dampen Maricruz’s Spirit or Quell Her Quest for Independence

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Maricruz is best known at NPH Guatemala for her beaming smile and upbeat attitude. For the occupational and physical therapists she works with, however, Maricruz is also known as a hardworker who has come to exemplify the success of NPH’s programs for adults with disabilities.

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These programs address the holistic definition of health championed by such groups as the World Health Organization, which includes physical, mental, and social well-being.

Originally from nearby San Andrés Itzapa, Guatemala, Maricruz is a long-time resident of Sagrado Corazón (Sacred Heart) the casita for adults with physical or intellectual disabilities living at NPH Guatemala. Her favorite part about Sagrado Corazón, where she lives with 12 other adults with disabilities, is “they give us everything we need. They give us food, they give us clothes, the caregivers help us with the cleaning,” she says. “And I’m thankful for that.”

Now 30 years old, Maricruz entered NPH in 2003 at the petition of her brothers and sisters. For all intents, she had been orphaned. Her mother, who had been her caregiver, had passed away and her father had abandoned her and her remaining siblings. At the time of her arrival at NPH, she was unable to care for herself; she was completely dependent on her siblings. She had never attended school prior to life at NPH. Maricruz, who lives with a physical and intellectual disability, now participates in ongoing physical and occupational therapy to increase her personal autonomy. Those who work with her say that, in spite of the challenges she faces, she works hard to constantly improve, bringing an infectiously bright attitude and cheery disposition to each task set before her.

This isn’t the case for all persons with a disability in Guatemala. Many go without the quality of professional care that NPH Guatemala provides. In 2017, CONADI (National Disability Council of Guatemala), CBM (formerly Christian Blind Mission), UNICEF, and the International Centre for Evidence in Disability came together to conduct the Guatemala National Disability Survey (ENDIS) to better understand this population and their living conditions.

Of the 13,800 people interviewed, 10% said they had a disability, while 31% said at least one person in their household had special needs. According to the survey, these households were more likely to be in the lowest socio-economic demographic, have a higher dependency ratio, and have a lower proportion of household members in work compared to households without someone with a disability. Furthermore, adults with special needs were much less likely to have attended school (64%) and be illiterate (37%) compared to adults without disabilities.

Luckily for Maricruz, she has the resources and support of qualified, experienced caregivers to help her find independence.

“I worked with Maricruz on her vocational skills with the goal being to increase her overall independence in her area of work and in her life in general,” Bridget Walde, outgoing volunteer occupational therapist at NPH Guatemala, said.

Thanks to the work of Bridget and others, Maricruz now helps out at Tienda Sonrisa (Smile Store) where she assists in a variety of ways, including handling money and handing out food orders to whomever stops by the centrally located kiosk at NPH Guatemala.

“Bridget taught me how to receive money in exchange for the products we sell and how to make proper change,” Maricruz said. “For example, she taught me that if someone hands me five quetzals for a one-quetzal bag of popcorn, I need to give them four quetzals in change.”

Other typical duties for Maricruz include washing and drying dishes, closing the shutter at the end of her shift, and general upkeep around the shop.

Bridget, who also taught Maricruz how to sign her name, says these small skills are the sort of things that can make a big difference in the lives of adults living with disabilities.

“Adults who can sign their name can open a bank account and do other things on their own,” Bridget said.

“Her attitude toward therapy is fantastic,” Bridget added. “She really takes advantage of what NPH has to offer and knows that it’s for her own wellbeing that she continue in her therapies.”

Maricruz also does physical therapy at NPH Guatemala. Once a week, she works with a volunteer physical therapist to increase her mobility. Maricruz, who primarily gets around in a wheelchair, is now walking more than ever thanks to her efforts and those of the trainers who assist her.

“It’s still difficult for me to walk, but I make an effort to try every day,” Maricruz said. “Before it was even more difficult for me, but I’m getting better all the time. Now that I have padding on the handles of my walker, it’s more comfortable. It helps me a lot to walk to the cafeteria, which is uphill from where I live.”

“I’m getting better all the time,” Maricruz said.