More than a wheelchair: How Latter-day Saint Charities is giving respect to individuals with disabilities

BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA — Silvia Carranza and dozens of other children moved around the basketball court of a local meetinghouse owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Balls flew as happy children and their families engaged in the activity — made possible because many on the court just received a new wheelchair.

It’s just what Carranza knew would happen.

Disabled and wheelchair-bound as a child, Carranza has dedicated her life to one goal: “Nobody is left behind,” she said.

On this day, 51 children received a new wheelchair as part of a partnership between CILSA — a nongovernmental organization that works in Argentina for the full inclusion of people with disabilities — and Latter-day Saint Charities.

The work “is very important for me because I am a person with a disability,” said Carranza, CILSA president. “I lived through a lot of discrimination throughout my life.”

Everyone should have the opportunity “to be, to do and to grow,” she said.

Carranza met President Russell M. Nelson during the wheelchair distribution event.  

“As CILSA’s president, I feel great pride in being able to introduce President Nelson to the activities that CILSA has been doing for the past 13 years with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” said Carranza. “I think it is a unique opportunity for him to meet us personally.”

Elder Kent Burton kisses Silvia Carranza, president of CILSA, as Latter-day Saint Charities donated wheelchairs to recipients through CILSA in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2019.
Elder Kent Burton kisses Silvia Carranza, president of CILSA, as Latter-day Saint Charities donated wheelchairs to recipients through CILSA in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2019. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred

Last year, Latter-day Saint Charities helped improve mobility for 53,800 in 40 countries, according to the organization. Monthly wheelchair distributions occurred in Argentina — where the Church has more than 450,000 members, 14 missions, 751 congregations and two temples.

President Gustavo Mernies of the Buenos Aires Argentina Belgrano Stake said the Church and CILSA are important partners. “What is my definition of this partnership? It is a miracle,” he said. “It allows us to reach out to people to help when they need it, how they need it.”

President Mernies said Latter-day Saint Charities makes and individualizes the wheelchairs and CILSA distributes them in the nation where Argentine policy dictates that every wheelchair must be matched to an individual before it arrives in the country.

Paola Loza talks about her son receiving a wheelchair from Latter-day Saint Charities in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2019.
Paola Loza talks about her son receiving a wheelchair from Latter-day Saint Charities in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2019. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred

Paola Loza was just 18 years old and single when her son, Juan Carlos, was born 14 years ago.

When her baby started crawling without the use of functioning legs, Loza’s father found his grandson a skateboard; with it Juan Carlos found mobility.

A few years later, Loza carried her son and his skateboard down her community’s dirt roads to the local school to register him for kindergarten. “I was told that without a wheelchair he could not attend,” Loza recalled.

The reality facing many with disabilities in her South American nation is straightforward, she said. “The wheelchair means respect.”

Juan Carlos Loza plays a game with the help of his mother, Paola Loza, after Latter-day Saint Charities donated a wheelchair to him at the Villa Urquiza Ward meetinghouse in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2019.
Juan Carlos Loza plays a game with the help of his mother, Paola Loza, after Latter-day Saint Charities donated a wheelchair to him at the Villa Urquiza Ward meetinghouse in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2019. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred

Disabled children without a wheelchair have limited access to education and medical treatment, she said.

Carranza said this is not the result of malice, but simply due to fear of the unknown.

“When someone doesn’t know a person that is different, they don’t know how to treat them, they don’t know how to include them, they don’t know what to do with them,” she explained. “So, they consider them to be a burden.”

Carranza’s life is an indication that is not true. She received an education, has had a successful career and is a mother.

The partnership between CILSA and the Church, formed in 2006, is also helping children with disabilities and their families see new possibilities. “Giving to others means seeing Jesus Christ in the other person,” she said. “When we see Jesus Christ in the other person, it is impossible not to give.”

Latter-day Saint Charities donated wheelchairs to recipients and played games with them at the Villa Urquiza Ward meetinghouse in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2019.
Latter-day Saint Charities donated wheelchairs to recipients and played games with them at the Villa Urquiza Ward meetinghouse in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2019. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred

Carranza said she feels pride in conveying what the partnership has meant and continues to mean. “Because I must do it as a representative of those people that are the recipients of the wheelchairs and because (those wheelchairs) will change their life and their story. …

“Happiness is not a destination. It is the attitude with which we go through life. And I would like to thank those who help us in that journey,” she said.