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Man on a Mission

Augusta Chaplain Leads Group Which Provides Aid To Disabled Costa Ricans

It took just one visit to Costa Rica for Walton Rehabilitation Health System Chaplain Dexter Lambert to make it his mission to lead a group to provide aid to the disabled in the district of Upala each April and a pastors’ conference there each October.

It took just one visit to Costa Rica for Walton Rehabilitation Health System Chaplain Dexter Lambert to make it his mission to lead a group to provide aid to the disabled in the district of Upala each April and a pastors’ conference there each October.

Photo Courtesy of walton rehabilitatioin health system

Dexter Lambert never dreamed what would come from his initial trip to Costa Rica five years ago.

Lambert, the chaplain for Walton Rehabilitation Health System, developed a relationship with a patient at the hospital who was from Costa Rica and wanted more services for people with disabilities. After the patient’s death, Lambert traveled with the man’s son to Costa Rica to see what was available for people with disabilities and found there wasn’t much. His most recent trip, with a medical missions and construction team, was on April 9 of this year.

The district of Upala, which is near the border of Nicaragua, has limited resources. Hot water, indoor plumbing and electricity are luxuries in many parts. The center for disability services there was a rundown house. The 20 or 30 people who spent their time there didn’t receive many rehabilitation services, but rather made picture frames from Popsicle sticks. “It was more like a babysitting service,” he says.

Many of the disabled in the region are those with Down Syndrome or amputees, he says. Lacking proper medical equipment, they improvise and use items such as plastic lawn chairs with wheels attached to them in place of wheel chairs.

Lambert began asking questions of a woman who worked in the disabilities center, which prompted her to call Don Alfredo Cabeza Badillas, the president of the Disabilities Association of Upala. He met with Lambert and a partnership of sorts was forged.

“I asked him what his vision was. He told me there was a great need for walkers, wheelchairs and crutches,” he says.

When Lambert returned to Augusta, he met with Dennis Skelley, Walton’s chief executive officer. “I asked for access to the warehouse,” says Lambert. And Skelley gave it plus used equipment for the people of Upala. About $20,000 worth of used equipment was targeted for the Upala Project. The hospital and Disabilities Association of Upala began working together on a five-year plan.

An Annual Trek to Upala

Each April, an Augusta group heads to Upala. Although it’s typically a small group of about 15 people, there are three different teams including a medical and dental team, a painting team and a construction team, who do a lot of work during the week there.

In the most recent trip, the medical team saw between 300 and 400 patients, and the dental team saw about 125 patients, according to Maria Del Valle, who helps with Lambert to coordinate the visits. Fluent in Spanish, Del Valle acts as the team’s interpreter.  “The value of what was given was about $35,000 in medical treatment and about $15,000 or $20,000 in dental treatment,” she says. Medical supplies are shipped in advance of the trip.

The most common ailments include rashes, stomach ailments, back pain and high blood pressure, says Del Valle. Extractions and teeth cleaning are among the dental services provided.

Building on the Dream

Over the past five years, the Upala project has seen a lot of success and fulfilled the five-year plan. The Disabilities Association has now moved from the rundown house into a new building, which was opened in 2010. “They are now seeing between 50 and 70 people a day. They are getting therapy. They are doing a lunch program,” says Lambert. And, Walton sent therapists to Costa Rica a few years ago to provide additional training.

Because of the Upala project, the Association has broadened its scope and it plans to use the center as a training site for Special Olympians.  The center even caught the attention of the Costa Rican national government. On the mission trip two years ago, the President visited the building, says Lambert.

The Upala project spawned several others, and an organization, the Foundation for Latin American Missions and Evangelism (FLAME), has been born. While Walton has partnered with the disabilities portion of the trips, FLAME sponsors the medical and dental side.

In addition to the medical missions, the group is now able to help in schools and with other community projects. “We’ve upgraded two schools with painting and working on the walkways. We’ve built two churches, and we’ve worked on houses in the community,” Lambert says.

The group takes clothing and other items to the Costa Ricans as well. Also, through FLAME, a series of pastors’ conferences have been added each year in Upala, held during October.  “We have between 120 and 130 pastors come. They walk or ride bicycles to get to the conferences,” he says.

Planning for the Future

Plans are already being made for next April’s trip. Del Valle says they’d like to take a second dentist or dental hygienist along next time. Often, the dental treatment is time consuming, she says. More patients could be seen with a second dentist or hygienist.

Lambert says there aren’t many qualifications for attending a trip. It’s not specific to any church denomination. Each participant must pay for the cost of the trip. Lambert says he pays for all of his trips as well.

While there are several area churches that have been very supportive with resources, Lambert says FLAME tries to utilize them efficiently for the people being served. The most steadfast supporters of FLAME have included Oasis de Benediction, Grace Fellowship of North Augusta, Heights Church in Clearwater and First Assembly of God in Augusta.

Donations to FLAME may be sent in care of Grace Fellowship, 507 W. Five Notch Rd., North Augusta 29860.

Charmain Z. Brackett is an Augusta freelance writer and mother of three.

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