We recently spoke to Gary about his wedding day and what his support for Handicap International means to him.
When we decided to get married, Sonja and I combined two homes into one, so we ended up with double of everything. The last thing we wanted was another toaster or a kettle so we decided we would ask for donations instead of wedding presents.
How did you find out about Handicap International?
Sonja had worked across South America so we wanted something that would benefit people in South America. Secondly, due to my disability and being in a wheelchair most of the time we wanted donations to go to a charity working with disabled people. That was our starting point.
We looked on the internet and researched various NGOs to see what they did. We contacted four charities by phone and after speaking to Handicap International UK, one of the things that stood out was the emphasis they put on rehabilitation. None of the other charities that we considered provided rehabilitation.
We knew we wanted to support activities in South America and found out from Handicap International that Colombia has some of the worst contamination by landmines anywhere in the world. These weapons are a significant cause of disability and young people are often affected.
Meet Irma, a Colombian landmine survivor
“Suddenly, I stepped on something that exploded. I was lying wounded on the ground screaming that I didn’t want to die.”
When Irma stepped on a landmine, she hardly knew anything about the dangers posed by these weapons. Thanks to supporters like Gary and Sonja, she received rehabilitation care and emotional support from our team. The proud mum of a beautiful daughter, Monica, Irma is now an ambassador who visits people in their homes to raise awareness and reduce the risk of accidents with landmines.
Can you tell us more about why you wanted to support Handicap International?
I’ve had personal experience of rehabilitation and it has done a lot for me; my mobility and my well-being as well. The focus on rehabilitation took Handicap International to the top of the list of the charities we wanted to support.
It’s all very well fitting someone with an artificial limb or giving them a wheelchair or other piece of equipment, but if they don’t have rehabilitation they won’t be able to make the most of it. When I first started using a wheelchair in 2008 I did everything I could to avoid using it. It wasn’t until I started rehabilitation and motivational techniques to overcome the psychological impact of going from legs to wheels that I was able to regain my independence.
Gary and Sonja on their wedding day. © Barbara Gracner
How did your wedding guests react when you said you wanted donations?
Some of them were a bit surprised, but when we explained that we had two properties-worth of things and every conceivable piece of kitchen equipment they were happy to send donations. We raised over £3,000.
You and Sonja were married on a boat off the coast of San Diego. Tell us about the wedding day.
We had guests coming from all over the world, particularly from Mexico where Sonja has a lot of friends. It wasn’t feasible for lots of people to travel to Europe so we settled on San Diego. The weather was fantastic on the day and the sailing conditions were excellent.
Challenge yourself to raise funds
However you choose to fundraise, the money you raise could change the life of a person with disabilities or protect a community from the threat of landmines. Find out more