MICHAEL URTECHO MEDINA
“The human being is worth for what
he has in his mind and heart”
These words penetrated my heart and helped me stand tall
when I was about to fall into depression in my teen years.
It is my joy, if I may say so, that among millions of people God made me special. I was born overweight, so in my childhood I was rather fat and my parents thought that it was the reason I was not able to walk, but then five years passed on, and…no change.
My family and I kept harboring hopes, and went from doctor to doctor, and prayed to a saint and then another, and another. They made everything so that their only son could walk. When I was seven years old, we took a hard blow because a group of physicians came to my hometown, Trujillo, and game a clear diagnosis: muscular hypotonicity, a kind of muscle dystrophy that causes a weakening of all muscles in the human body, and it is incurable. This is the reason I am not able to stand and walk.
Then, my family and I should get prepared for what was going to come in the rest of my life; I would have to live with it till the end, and that is what we did!
At first, it was not easy because I had to see my Mom weeping day by day; I had to move by dragging myself along the floor, and playing on the ground. My sisters and my father gave me of their time because I had no friends, so I still remember my father playing chess with me every afternoon, and that is how I developed a talent for that sport and won several competitions.
At eight years old I did not socialize much because I did not go to school. I learned to read an write thanks to my aunt Magna. That is when my family decided to enroll me in a nearby regular school. I took an admission test, and was able to register in a higher level than what was right for my age.
At school I went through a series of hardships. My Mom took me from home to school and the other way round. I recall one occasion when my classmates locked me in my classroom, and another time when they tied my hands and everyone laughed at me. Now I think all that was due to wrong beliefs of my mates, and even my teachers’.
In my teen years, it was the hardest time since it is a time when you want to do many things, and I was not able to do anything. I felt depressed and did not want to do anything, till one day when a friend who was also our family doctor talked with me in private, and told me: “The human being is worth for what he has in his mind and heart”. These words penetrated my heart, and from then on, there was a radical change in my life. I made more friends, even though I still had bad moments such as not being able to enjoy my high school promotion travel and graduation party, but I overcame all of these.
When the time came for me to choose a field of study, at first I chose medicine, but unfortunately it was impossible for me to practice it in Peru, so I decided to study chemical engineering since it had connection with pharmaceutical inputs that I did like. As you can see there is always an option left for us. I started studying at the university and there I found that my memory and some good friends helped me overcome a few obstacles that stood in my way, one of them was accessibility. I managed to graduate in the third best place of my class, and then I pursued postgraduate studies. Here the anecdote is that my classmates were my former teachers. At this stage, I felt I gained maturity.
However, my youth was not easy either. At 27 years of age, I felt a deep heartache and I wanted to die, and I even thought of forming a singles’ club. Even though I had achieved some things in my life I felt empty. It was the time when I began my first political campaign, and I looked for a church, and it was then that I felt that my heart was touched by someone special. I attended the Living Water church in Trujillo and when I was praising and worshipping, I could feel a real living God. Ever since that day I never get apart from Him, and now, together with my wife, it is He who leads our lives and every step we make.
I met my wife, Claudia Gonzales Valdivia, in the church when I was thirty years old. At first she did not pay any attention to me, so I tried to attract her attention by taking my Samoyed dog, but when I showed it to her she told me she did not like dogs, turned and walked away. However, I did not give up, and insisted one way or another because I saw great qualities in her; she is a God-fearing woman and her personality, her humility, captivated me, specially the way she praised the Lord and preached His Word.
So one day God gave me this great gift, and we started a relationship according to Christian principles; we were first special friends and then became boyfriend and girlfriend, and finally we got engaged. All this lasted five years. We were not able to get married as soon as we wanted because I was made redundant; however, this obstacle only brought us together closer so we became street vendors selling different items. This experience shaped our character, and leave our pride aside, understanding the real meaning of starting from scratch, and learning to be more humble.
Later, God allowed us to get married. Claudia is a gift from God for my life. She helps me, encourages me every morning, and wisely corrects my mistakes; she is the complement I needed to achieve what I have achieved up to now.
On the other hand, in my professional practice I have been able to work for different public and private institutions, such as the multinational Semex of Canada, the Regional Government of La Libertad, Peruvian Brewery Factory Backus & Johnston, the National University of Trujillo. With the money I made in these jobs I could afford an electric wheel chair and a van specially adapted to me.
In 2003, out of my courage and perseverance I decided to participate in the annual project competition sponsored by the World Bank winning the third place with the project “The Daily Bread from a Disabled Brother”. This allowed me to offer jobs exclusively to disabled persons. It was the first project of this kind in Trujillo, and possibly in Peru. But that was not enough, the next year I won again another competition also sponsored by the World Bank with a related innovative project Promoting the Daily Bread Project. It was surprising to hear that the very World Bank officials said it was an example to the world. The baker shop grew a lot, and still operates in the city of Trujillo.
In another aspect of my life, I must confess that one of my deep wishes was to become a father so when I was 38 years old, through an artificial insemination procedure, my wife and I became the happiest parents of the world, without knowing what was coming along. I always thought I had already overcome the hardest moments because I had been able to surpass all the obstacles that life had placed before me, and I had decided that my disability, the greatest challenge of my life, would not keep me from achieving my dreams and goals, but I was wrong.
On April 14th, 2008, my twin daughters were born, Ana Claudia and Ana Rebecca. I felt like in paradise, happiness overwhelmed me and I thanked God so much for giving me this long-awaited gift. He honored me by giving me Ana Rebecca for only 22 unforgettable days, and then He took her back. Undoubtedly there are no words to describe the pain we feel when we lose a child.
My baby left me the best lesson when I saw her clinging to life and fought to survive, she taught me the value of life. It was the hardest and most painful I had to live through, but now I know that God has great plans for me, things I may not understand now, though I am sure that one day I will see reason why that happened. Now I thank God for giving me a wonderful family; with Claudia and Ana Claudia I live the best moments of happiness; together we love to listen to music and praise God together.
And as life goes on, the trials of life are always present, for instance, a few weeks ago I was operated on to remove my gallbladder, an apparently simple surgery, but because of my disability it posed high risk on my health. There was no background information about even how to inject the anesthesia and how my body was going to react, particularly my muscles. I entered the operation room keeping in mind my daughter Ana Rebecca’s lesson. Thanks to God all was a success, and my recovery surprised even doctors.
A chance to help my disabled brothers
Since I was twenty-five, I always wondered how I could help disabled fellow men, and I was not even able to sleep thinking of this. Then one day God placed in my heart the idea of sending an email message where I could share my achievements, my personal experience, and my desire to help my disabled brothers in any possible way. This email was sent to many people, politicians, authorities of that moment, and many replied to me, one of them was the former congressman Antero Florez Araoz, also Alejandro Toledo called me, I still remember his peculiar voice on the phone. But whom I really liked and identified myself with was Rafael Rey, the president of the political party National Renovation, the group where I started my political career. He traveled to Trujillo just to meet me, and told me he would love to work for disability. When I met him he made me feel confident and sure.
I ran for a seat in Congress and was elected the third time, with a large voting in my hometown, La Libertad. In the first year of work, I presided over a special committee on disability that was set up in the congress. This committee, thanks to God, has achieved many things at national level, and for further information you can visit the following website www.codis.pe. Currently, I am the second vice-president of the Congress, and I am working so that this institution can directly help the Peruvian needy.
I must tell you that during this time in congress I have had mixed feeling; joy and hope at seeing that from my position I can help many Peruvians, specially disabled persons. I have witnessed that businessmen, public officials, NGO staff, and other well-meaning people are willing to support great sustainable projects in favor of disabled persons. How much hope in a world where sometimes indifference and despondency seem to prevail! But on the other side, there is in my heart some frustration for not being able to reach all people who need our good works, and I feel sadness when I see the harshness of the heart of some people who can not understand that disability is a problem of all of us. Because we are not free of the risk of having a relative or maybe ourselves who may suffer any kind of disability.
As you can see God has allowed me to go through situations that have given me the opportunity of understanding and working for you with high vocation and identification. I wrote these memoirs not as a politician, since I do not mention my achievements, but as a human being, with the purpose of reaching a large number of people and showing them the reality of a disabled person. We only lack the opportunity and a spirit of fight, faith and perseverance to develop like any successful able person. Today I can say that when you have a chance and that spirit of fight any limitation vanishes.
God bless you.
Cong. Michael Urtecho Medina