By Craig Weincek
Rodny Moreno is doing more than virtually anyone to help make Panama a safe place. This 34-year-old resident of Chiriqui is the lead operator for telephone helplines both in Boquete and along the Pacific beaches from Punta Chame to Santa Clara. Amazingly, Moreno is on-call almost 24/7, 365 days a year, even though there are other operators involved. Even more impressive is that Moreno fulfills his service roll in spite of the fact that he is a quadriplegic confined to a wheelchair, and comes from a poor background.
The first self-motivated step for the native Panamanian was to teach himself English by using the internet. The rumor was that he learned by watching TV, but after a recent meeting of Neighbors Helping Neighbors, Moreno, who was there to meet the Coronado-area neighbors he assists, said he mostly took courses via the web.
He started working with the “Alto al Crimen” (Stop the Crime) citizens’ group in Boquette almost five years ago and then got involved with Neighbors Helping Neighbors (NHN) when he was contacted about a year ago by T. Rob Brown, that group’s founder who lives in Santa Clara. Due to modern telephone technology, Moreno is able to serve both communities from his wheelchair. Due-paying members of either organization can call the helpline because of emergencies brought on by crime, injuries, health matters or even car problems. Moreno becomes especially essential to expats who have trouble making themselves properly understood in Spanish by local authorities, who seldom speak any English.
Moreno’s relatively rare condition is called Arthrogryposis multiplex congenital (AMC) which means that he has had to deal with severe joint contractures caused by abnormal fibrosis of the muscles in most of his joints since birth. While he does receive help getting around from his younger two sisters and two brothers, Moreno is quite self-sufficient.
Moreno is on-call almost 24/7, 365 days a year, Even more impressive is that Moreno fulfills his service roll in spite of the fact that he is a quadriplegic confined to a wheelchair, and comes from a poor background.
Moreno, a self-confident, well spoken and charming fellow, explains his motivation by saying that it is important “to be able to prove myself while making a positive contribution to my community. I am able to sustain myself and help others at the same time.” His and the other operators’ salaries are the main expenditures from the groups’ treasuries.
Indeed, everyone at the meeting and especially those actively involved in the self-help organization used the same word to describe how they felt about Moreno and his dedication to operating the helpline. That word used in every instance is inspirational.
Brown, who came up with the idea of Neighbors Helping Neighbors along with his wife Yolanda when a local crime spree caused concern, is duly impressed. Speaking of Moreno, Brown noted “he literally lives by the phone. By learning English he has pulled himself up from poverty and become a breadwinner and community asset while dealing with what some people might call a disability.”
Jeff Scher owner/operator of Panama AV and a sponsor of NHN as well as a member of their board of directors said that he was “proud to know Rodny and very comfortable and extremely confident with his abilities and inspired by the service that he provides.”
Betty Morin, the treasurer of NHN, said that Moreno “is a shining example of what people can do if they have a positive attitude. While we have other operators what we’re trying to do would be much more difficult without the backbone of our operation.”
Moreno has even inspired the newly formed Rotary Club in Coronado to undertake a program that will provide wheelchairs for needy Panamanians. That’s according to Mark Kendziorek and his wife Jackie.
For more information about Neighbors Helping Neighbors go to www.panamahelpline.org. For more info about AAC contact www.altoalcrimen.org. For more information about the Rotary’s wheelchair project contact firstname.lastname@example.org or