Soldier, family man, agriculturist, and carpenter – these all describe the 2014 Free Wheelchair Mission special guest recipient. Manuel de Jesus Villegas Aviles grew up in San Miguel, El Salvador with his 3 sisters and 4 brothers. He was an active child and from an early age possessed a positive attitude and spirit of service.
San Miguel is known for its large agricultural industry and when Manuel was old enough he went to work on a farm where he enjoyed his job growing produce and plants. In 1998, he enlisted in the El Salvadorian Army and held the rank of Corporal. He served his country bravely including a tour in Iraq from 2007-2008.
On April 19, 2008, while climbing a tree to get a coconut, Manuel became dizzy and fell, suffering severe head and spinal cord injuries. He was in a coma for 16 days and when he woke the doctors informed Manuel that he would never walk again. He remained in disbelief and prayed to God for help.
After his injury, Manuel was able to borrow a couple of wheelchairs, however given the terrain in his hometown they were not durable and broke. There were times when he lived without a wheelchair, having to crawl on the ground or rely on friends to help him in and out of the house. It was difficult for him to continue his administrative service to the military and he was deeply depressed.
In 2013, he received a Free Wheelchair Mission wheelchair from distribution partner, Rescue Task Force. It has allowed him to return to the busy and productive lifestyle that he so desires, working in the military office and resuming his farming and carpentry. Despite his disability, Manuel is able to help support his family on a modest income of $49 a month. Along with his wife Blanca, 11-year year old son Alexis, and 7-year old daughter Graciana, the family lives a humble but happy life.
Manuel is proud to serve others, which he exemplified immediately after receiving his wheelchair. He remained at the distribution center giving his time, energy, and skill to help the Free Wheelchair Mission team build more chairs for those in need. Free Wheelchair Mission is honored to welcome Corporal Manuel Villegas to the 11th Annual Magic of Mobility Celebration.