Transitions was co-founded in 1996 by John Bell a North American and a Guatemalan, Alex Gálvez. John Bell had come to Antigua, Guatemala to work as a volunteer in Hermano Pedro Hospital. While there, he met Alex, a young patient being treated for the effects of a paralyzing gunshot wound. Alex was suffering from severe bedsores, and the outlook for his recovery was very bleak. Recognizing the seriousness of the situation, it was arranged for Alex to be brought to the United States where he received the surgeries and self-care training needed to make a successful recovery. Alex was eventually able to return to Guatemala, a healthy young man with a new outlook on his life.
Following this experience, Alex realized the tremendous need to provide services to to Guatemalans living with paralysis. Not only are there a huge number of individuals with disabilities living in Guatemala, but the situation is also intensified by the fact that almost 50% of Guatemalans are illiterate, the average person makes less than $10 per day, and as many as 50% of children experience chronic malnutrition. Guatemalans with disabilities receive no financial aid from the Guatemalan government, and many depend solely on family members for remittances and other financial support. Professional and educational opportunities for Guatemalans living with disabilities are severely limited.
In response to these difficult circumstances, Alex decided to create an organization in which Guatemalans with disabilities could work to reclaim their lives – thus, Transitions was born. In the 14 years that have followed, Transitions has become a leader in the Guatemalan disability community, providing services and opportunities that are unique to this organization and geographical area. Alex, the organization’s Executive Director, has worked in collaboration with partners throughout the world to pioneer new programs and services for Guatemalans with disabilities. Amongst many other projects, Transitions has worked with local partner ConstruCasa to build several accessible houses for individuals with disabilities living in rural areas of Guatemala, with World Emergency Relief to provide rehabilitation and education to Guatemalan youth with developmental disabilities, and with Rotary International and The California Institute of Technology, to fabricate and deliver over 900 custom mobility aids to disabled Guatemalans at little to no cost. Of the people with whom Transitions works, most are disable due to: congenital birth defects, permanent injuries due to accidents (paraplegics, amputees, orthopedic impairment), survivors of violence that have been left with a range of physical disabilities, and the elderly.
Currently, Transitions operates six different programs dedicated to improving the lives of people with disabilities: (1) Wheelchair Workshop, (2) Prosthetic & Orthotic Clinic, (3) Print Shop, (4) Special Education Classroom, (5) Educational Scholarships, and (6)Wheelchair Basketball Program. Amongst all of its programs, Transitions strives to provide jobs to people with disabilities. Of the individuals Transitions employs, roughly 75 percent are persons with disabilities, who all started as participants in Transitions’ programs.