Larissa Hotra

Larissa Hotra (Survivor Corps in El Salvador): Larissa graduated from the University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources in 2004. She worked at the nonprofit SafeHouse in Ann Arbor, Michigan as a legal advocate and as an environmental science educator to high school students. She then served as the Midwest campaign coordinator for Global Impact, a nonprofit that raises money for international humanitarian organizations. By night, she worked as the Political Affairs Editor for a Ukrainian Internet Newsletter, e-POSHTA. Throughout her time in Chicago she dabbled in everything that the city had to offer: producing a story for Chicago Public Radio on the Ukrainian diaspora; organizing and working with the Ukrainian diaspora through PLAST – a Ukrainian youth scouting; attending free cultural and musical events; practicing her Spanish language skills in Latino immigrant neighborhoods; and trying to play soccer on every piece of green space in the city. At the time of her fellowship, Larissa was in the first year of a Master’s program at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs.



What would YOU do with $50,000 ? Ask Yourself Three Questions…

22 Jul

Question #1: Just how far will $50,000 get a person with a disability?

Answer: It depends on who is spending it, and why.

On July 17, 2008, the Amazing Race, “Helping Those Who Help Others,” officially ended, and LSN-El Salvador won the bronze medal. LSN-ES, along with two other organizations focused on Education, were awarded $50,000 each by the Gloria Krete Foundation to continue doing the work that they do helping others in El Salvador (La Prensa: http://archive.laprensa.com.sv/20080617/planbella/1081428.asp and El Diario De Hoy: http://www.elsalvador.com/mwedh/nota/nota_varias_fotos.asp?idCat=6560&idArt=2622211). Ten finalists were awarded a grand total of $345,000, and LSN-ES cut off one of the larger slices of pie. It was truly a day for celebration.

And yet, the pie was not even so big at the beginning of the night. An extra $90,000 was awarded to the finalists present that evening through the anonymous donations of two families. To me, this generosity in El Salvador is mind-boggling and hard to quantify.

$50,000.

Is that a lot of money in El Salvador? In the United States, that might pay for a Master’s education for one person, a brand new car with fancy features, and perhaps a down payment for a home (depending on what state you live in). But how far will that go when split amongst the approximately 600,000 individuals with a disability in El Salvador? I’m not quite sure. But it definitely promises some hope to improve accessibility in the country.

LSN-ES will be using the award money to buy prosthetics and accompanying materials for people with disabilities, as well as putting some of the money towards developing the non-existent disability-related services in the hospitals.

I repeat: Non-existent disability-related services. Apparently, if you have lost a limb, you have three days in the hospital to recover. At the end of those three days, you are sent off with a missing limb and no information on how to deal with your new life. You are not told where to get psychological help or physical rehabilitation. You are barely told how to take care of your injury, and you are offered no help in learning how to survive. You are basically thrown onto a bicycle and expected to ride it, without any directions or ability to do so. It’s horrible.

This is why LSN will be using some of the award money to teach Medical Professionals how to help their new patients. LSN already uses a series of pamphlets catering to post-injury recovery, and they will be imparting their knowledge to those professionals who deal with these patients daily; that is, doctors, nurses, and social workers, among others.

Question #2: Can you afford to be disabled in El Salvador?

Answer: Probably not.

According to the State Department, the average per capita income of an individual in El Salvador (2006) is $2,656.90, whereas the purchasing power parity is approximately $5,514.97. Either way you slice this cake, this isn’t very much money, especially when you have to buy yourself a prosthetic leg in order to go to work. In order to visualize just how much it is not, I did some investigating into what it costs to have a physical disability. The following is what I came up with.

Approximate costs (according to LSN staff):
Half leg prosthesis: $750
Full leg prosthesis: $1,500
Arm prosthesis: $700 functional ($1,500 for cosmetic)
Crutches: $25/pair
Hospital wheelchair:
-new: $1,000
-used: $300-$500

Other costs not included here: New prosthesis-compatible shoes, socks, new methods of transportation, medicine, prosthesis repair and doctor visits, recuperating time, family suffering, and a limited selection of employment options, among many others.

Question #3: Why do those of us without a disability get priority?

Answer: Because the social rules in El Salvador favor pregnant ladies and people without disabilities.

My run this morning relaxed me, as it does most mornings. My blood is pumping and I feel solid and secure in myself, glad to be able to enjoy this simple sport that brings me so much joy. And then, as a testament to my (in)stability, I fall.

Hard. I brace the fall to the sidewalk with the palms of my hands and do a ninja-style somersault to avoid slamming my body into the concrete. I jump up, surprisingly unharmed, save a few scratches, and curse the uneven sidewalk.

Thirty minutes later, it happens again. I trip on the uneven sidewalk, fall to the sidewalk, let my palms take the force of the fall, and somersault back to my feet. Again. I curse the sidewalk, and look around. People must think I’m crazy. But you know what’s really crazy?

These sidewalks. If I can’t walk down the sidewalk, how is somebody in a wheelchair supposed to use one?

And you know what else is “crazy”? The “accessible priority parking spots” in this country. In the U.S., from just having parked my car places, I know that there is generally a minimum of two accessible priority parking spots for each commercial business. Here? One for people with disabilities, and one for pregnant women.

Now, being a woman myself, I should probably herald the law that states that pregnant women deserve special attention. I’m not quite sure how I feel about that yet, but I do know that when that comes before parking spaces for people truly living with a disability, it doesn’t sit well with me. I empathize with the birthing mamas. I do. But to use up a precious parking space for this reason seems erroneous.

LSN Director Don Jesus, working in tandem with other agencies advocating on behalf of people with disabilities, is working on an advertising campaign to encourage the city to improve its accessible infrastructure. The organizations are not asking for much; ramps to let people into buildings, a level sidewalk so that people don’t trip and wheelchair users can get from Point A to Point B there, rules that punish people for parking on the sidewalks, and accessibility so that children may go to school. And yet it is the society that must be adapted so that ALL people in the society, which include people with disabilities, can access their rights (e.g. right to education, work, health, etc.). The generous $50,000 will help tremendously in buying materials and helping to develop the programs in the hospital, and yet the society, not individual donations, must permanently change its attitude towards individuals with disabilities and adapt its services to help all people to access their human rights.

Posted By Larissa Hotra

Posted Jul 22nd, 2008

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