I met an angel today. She doesn't have wings. But only because she doesn’t need them. She prefers to use wheels to get her job here on earth done. And she is wheely, wheely good at it, too. But more on that in a bit.
I’ll start with the obvious. Margrith can live anywhere she chooses. Her Swiss passport and government’s lack of enemies gives her and her husband that freedom. Yet she chooses to call Manila home. They arrived here in 1978 and kind of never left. There was a short work stint in another country, but when that was up, they came back in 1987 and starting growing roots here. Funnily enough, it turns out I even went to school with her kid back in grade 3, but that’s not how we know each other.
I only asked to meet Margrith after hearing what I thought were urban myths that were floating around little pockets of the expat community. People affectionately referred to her as an angel on wheels, or the Godmother of mobility because she quietly built and operated 3 PWD vehicles back in 2003 under her non-profit foundation. Her model was simple. She charges the PWDs who have means to pay, and doesn’t charge those who can’t. Donations and fundraisers fill in the shortfalls.
A French friend, Jean-Marc from City Kart Racing, mentioned her and her projects a few years back, but even though I had no reason to doubt him, if I’m completely honest, I had a little trouble comprehending how anyone could be so devoted to our PWD community without a personal or corporate slant. But it wasn’t until my brother Michael reached out and put us in touch did I start believing in fairy tales.
Oddly enough, Michael was only asking for an introduction to the president of Foton. Nothing else. When I asked him why, he told me about Margrith. When I realized that it was the same lady I had been hearing about, I asked him point blank: “Michael, is this person legit? Would you personally vouch for her character?” He replied, “It’s just an intro, bro, chill. They are willing to buy the vehicle. We are not asking for a handout. Just the friendliest terms possible.”
“I get that”, I said. “But if this person happens to the real Wonder Woman, I think we can do one better.” And that is where I really, really need your help.
You see, as young and beautiful as she looks, Margrith and her husband are already planning for the future. Something that is sustainable even if they are no longer able to be involved. Because if there’s anything worse than our PWDs not having decent transport options, it’s getting them to build up a dependency on one, only to have to lose it. And the reality is, her vehicles are now 14 years old. So as optimistic as this beacon of hope is, she’s refreshingly realistic as well. And as there are only two left under her foundation (the other was donated to Tahanan na walang hagdanan) Margrith tells me that if she can build a prototype down to a reasonable cost, she could not only expand her humble fleet and ensure it’s sustainability, but more importantly, create a cost-effective solution that transport companies can also look at to fill this urgent need.
So, here’s the plan.
I have asked for a meeting with the president of Foton. I’m hoping he will find time next week. Because when I bring Margrith to the table, I want her to walk in with the confidence of someone that has 311,506 cheerleaders behind her. Crudely put, I would like her to bully him with love. I know the president well and I know he has a great heart. I just want to make it about more than just that, because for it to be sustainable, it will at some point have to make sense to his head as well. And that is where you come in.
The more we raise (in both money and awareness) and the less we get the stripped out version of the Foton Traveller ambulance model, the more units we could probably get. Assuming that the foundation already had a budget for one, that money could go into outfitting another one. And another one. And as Foton have now set up manufacturing here in Clark, with enough interest, they could build a few of them that private companies can operate––or better yet, TNVS peers.
I’ve already had informal chats with both Grab and Uber and they see no issue with it. In fact, they are extremely excited about it, and would even consider subsidizing costs so that it doesn’t cost anymore than an Uber X or regular Grab Car. Imagine that? An app based PWD vehicle. God bless you, 2017. Then there’s Lifeline Rescue, who painted themselves into a corner with this introduction and will have no choice but to say yes when we politely steer our tsunami of love their way and ask them to maintain a small fleet––or at very least use their centralized 16911 call center to help dispatch the vehicles. Whatever. Those are details we can work out later. The goal here is to get enough funding and awareness out there so that more PWDs can have something they can truly rely on, because we can’t expect Margrith to take on all that load. Even superheroes need some time to themselves.
Imagine being able to pool together and crowd fund this prototype and/or the foundation vehicle. What an awesome gift to give our PWD brothers and sisters. Most of them are extremely gifted, talented and extremely productive members of society, but are not always able to share that solely because of mobility issues. Sayang, diba? It’s like having Waze without an Internet connection. In the past month alone I’ve posted two incredibly heartwarming stories of amazing PWDs that have given us a glimpse of their potential. Imagine how many more there are out there, and how much they have to offer.
So, here’s how you can help.
We could do this through donations, shirt sales, stickers, mugs, hugs, whatever. Buy or donate whatever you want. It all adds up. Believe me. A few people have already reached out after I posted the pulse check; they are offering to sponsor the shirts, the screen printing, the delivery, the online store, etc. I’m saying yes to all of them because I don’t think anyone should have the monopoly on generosity. This is a community effort. We need all the help and love we can get. So if you want to donate time, money, products, skills, or just your voice, please, join us for the ride. It will be fun, I promise you. But more importantly, it will be fun-ctional.
P.S. No amount is too small or too big. Especially too big. Really. If you don’t believe me, try it. I double dare you. You can donate using the big orange button below. It accepts PayPal and credit cards. If you prefer bank transfers, you can donate directly to the foundation, but Pleeeeease send us a copy of your deposit slip so they can keep track :) There's a link to our email below.
Here are their bank account details:
Union Bank: Current Acct# 00087-001645-3
BDO: Savings Acct#380-21728-7
These are all under the account of CIRCLE OF FRIENDS FOUNDATION, INC.
P.P.S. If you have a product or service to offer, send an email to [email protected] There’s already an awesome volunteer named Erica that is on standby to put your skills or services to good use.