Madelene’s PET

El Salvadorian girl rolling again thanks to local PET shop

K. Madelene taking the cart for a test drive
A young girl in El Salvador takes her new PET on a test drive

By Sarah Yates
[This originally appeared in the November 14th Box Elder News Journal.]

A young girl in El Salavador is cranking about in a well-fitted Personal Energy Transportation (PET) vehicle, thanks to an adventure that began in mid-April with a simple email message from Bryan Eriksson to his grandfather in Brigham City.

“Hey Grandpa: How are you doing? I am just writing to let you know I saw a PET while I was down in El Salvador. I have attached a few pictures of it and the girl who received it. I forget the girl’s name, but she had scoliosis and her back was very deformed. She is 15 years old, but is very petite and has the body size of a 7 or 8 year old. They have had the PET for about 5 years, but recently she has not been able to use because it caused her back too much pain. Her father asked me if I knew of any modifications that could be made to make it more comfortable. I couldn’t think of any on the spot, but said that I would ask you.”

Grandpa is Norm Anderson of Brigham City, founder of PET of Northern Utah, a non-profit organization that builds PETs, the sturdy three-wheeled hand-cranked wooden vehicles which are distributed free to people with disabilities in over 90 underdeveloped countries. He oversees the PET volunteer workshop in Brigham City, which recently completed its 50th vehicle.

Eriksson, on break from college in March, had been part of a youth delegation from a Presbyterian church in Pullman, Washington, which participated in a mission trip to El Salvador.

Within a few minutes of receiving the message, Anderson forwarded the message to PET International, with the added note: “Ryan and his dad come and help at our shop often so he is interested in the PET world. He is now in college at Washington State and just got back from El Salvador. He was very excited to see a PET and, of course; concerned about the use of it.”

Thanks to the wonder of email, a lively discourse began as ideas were put forth – a wheelchair? a pull PET with a canvas back? adaptation of a regular PET?

Soon an email arrived from PET MO in Columbia, MO, with plans for two versions of web-backed seats, along with a message: “A pull might be the answer, but then she’d give up her semi independence. If the webbing or other would work, I’d like to see her cranking again,” from Kathy Maynard of PET International.

Within a few days, a notice arrived that PET Holland in Michigan had just started making a “mesh back” to put on a child size seat, along with a picture of what one looked like on an adult PET. If Anderson could supply an address of where to send it; Holland would work on trying to: get one to her.

The information needed to be quick since Hope Haven, a wheelchair non-profit which had delivered Madeline’s PET four or five years before, planned to distribute items in El Salvador before the

Emails went back and forth trying to find out the girl’s name and how to reach her. Dennis Matter of Ninos Tres Rios, who had organized the mission trip, was able to identify her as Madelene Sanchez of Sisimitepet, El Salvador, as well as offering to make local arrangements to escort a team to Madelene’s house. Ninos Tres Rios is active in promoting education for children in Latin America, and works in 12 poor communities in El Salvador.

Meanwhile, the webbed back was being built in Michigan and the web of PET volunteers was working on getting it to the right place.

By mid-June, Anderson wrote to Matter. “We just returned from a trip to Missouri where we picked up a webbed back support assembly. It was assembled at the PET site in Holland, Mich., which is the major producer of the child size PET.”

A volunteer had personally carried the webbed back to Missouri, knowing that Norm and Marilyn Anderson would be visiting there. Anderson noticed a minor problem — the hole pattern was different because Madeline’s unit was built in Columbia some 4-5 years before; and the new assembly was built at Holland. He offered a few suggestions on its modification.

The big question was: would someone in Ninos Tres Rios be able to take the webbed back assembly to El Salvador in August, when a mission trip from Bellevue Christian School was planned?

“Since we have quite a large team going down, I think this is very feasible,” replied Matter, adding that one of the participants was a wood shop instructor and the PET would be a good project for his students. They “chatted” back and forth about c-clamps, nuts and bolts, and such.

Anderson’s next email subject line was, “The webbed back support is on its way!”

In late August, a welcome message arrived from Matter, who explained, “A couple of the girls adopted it as their PET project and did an awesome job! I’ve attached a sequence of pictures that pretty much show what they did … from dis-assembly to cleaning to painting and reassembly and taking Madeline for a spin in her new PET.”

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Some might call it serendipity, but Anderson thinks of it as a series of “God moments” as like minded volunteers acted on a chance sighting of a PET in El Salvador, to Washington, to Utah, to Missouri, to Michigan, to Missouri, to Utah, to Washington, and finally, to El Salvador.

Where, it is reported, Madelene is cranking along.

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