Scouts, adventure and accessibility
Yesterday, my son Stan boarded a plane to South Korea as one of the young people chosen to represent Devon at the 25th World Scout Jamboree. It is going to be an incredible adventure, with the opportunity to meet more than 40,000 other Scouts from all over the world and have some fantastic experiences on the way.
I am beyond proud of him. His journey to Korea started almost two years ago when, not long after joining Explorers, he heard about the Jamboree and decided to apply for a place. We spent a few evenings doing many (!) takes of his selection video, in which he had to explain why he thought he would be a candidate to represent Devon at this incredible event. There were many young people keen to go, so he was delighted when he was invited to attend the selection weekend one wet, soggy weekend in October. Fast forward a month and after hearing that the letters of acceptance were arriving that day, we came charging home to the news we were hoping for and lots of tears and dancing round the kitchen!
The eighteen months since have been jam packed. Fund raising was the first thing, to raise money for the trip. He decided that to do so he would wheel the width of Devon in his wheelchair – a total distance of around 112km from east to west as the crow files. He also wanted to raise money for others while doing so. Therefore 30% of everything he has made will go to Great Ormond Street Hospital and SMA UK, as two organisations that have done so much to help our family and many others. It’s been hard work and having his GCSE’s right in the middle means he hasn’t yet completely finished. But he has worked hard and is determined to complete it on his return.
There have been numerous training camps along the way, to help prepare all the Scouts for the trip. I have seen him gain life skills such as how to do all your laundry in a dry bag, learn about the Korean culture and food. He’s made some great new friends and grown hugely in his confidence and sense of self-worth.
And yesterday, along with those friends and the fantastic unit leaders, he set off for Seoul.
Saying goodbye to my sixteen-year old son as he set off to the other side of the world for three weeks was quite emotional for many reasons. But his desire to get out and grab hold of what the world has to offer fills me with joy.
That was one of the reasons I decided to post this. I have two children, both fabulous young people who are kind, funny, clever and determined. I am immensely proud of the pair of them for everything they do and are. They have a habit of grabbing life by the horns and making the best of everything. Whether that is abseiling down a cliff in a wheelchair, standing up for what they believe in or indeed travelling to Korea for a once in a lifetime experience, THAT is who they are.
As a family, we have been very fortunate to share adventures to some incredible places. We have flown on tiny prop planes to the middle of the jungle and canoed down rivers. We have swum in volcanic lakes listening to howler monkeys. We have retraced Rosa Park’s journey when she got on the bus and eaten jellabis’ in the chaos of Chandni Chowk. And now, both my children are becoming adventurers in their own right, with a strong desire to get out and see the world in all its wonder and chaos. As they should.
Money is sometimes an obstacle to this, as is time. That is a universal issue and one not easily solved, unfortunately! However, disability should not be and that that is why this post is not just a proud mum brag but a call to action.
Both my children were born with SMA. This is a genetic neuromuscular condition that causes severe muscle weakness and difficulties walking amongst other things. Molly is a full-time wheelchair user while Stan uses his for distances as he can tire easily.
As such, travelling can sometimes throw up some obstacles but with a bit of pre-planning and lateral thinking most are usually surmountable.
However, the world doesn’t always make it easy for those curious souls with a disability. Sometimes because of lack of thought, sometimes because of physical obstacles. Sometimes it can be sheer ignorance but often it is because of a lack of communication. There are opportunities aplenty for people to get out and see the world. But lots more needs to be done to let people know what is out there. I will often spend hours online researching the places we want to visit, when it should be so much more straightforward.
It could be a simple entry on a hotel website, information about accessibility of public transport or trained staff with empathy and the ability to think outside of the box. Accessibility can take many forms and can mean different things to everyone. Which of course can also be part of the issue. But communication needs to be transparent and specific so that people can make their own decisions about what is right for them.
So, I am asking you to have a think? Do you know some person or organisation that is doing their bit to make the world more accessible? Then shout about it. Perhaps you are that company or individual. Go ahead and tell us all what you are doing. Is there something you could change to make it better and more inclusive? Then do it.
Maybe not everyone has the desire to travel but it should be their choice, not one made for them because of something as easy to fix as lack of information. Adventure is all of our right. Let’s make it happen.
The Scouts are a fabulous organisation, helping tomorrow’s adults become decent, kind human beings who respect others and do what they can to help. That could be learning a new skill or experiencing different cultures. It could be pushing their friends to the top of Devon’s highest tors in their wheelchairs! It could be supporting each other when things get tough.
They don’t tell them what to do but instead give our youngsters the skills and confidence to make good choices. They teach them to be team players, able to see the bigger picture and support those around them. The motto of this years Scout Jamboree is Thing Big, Dream Wild, Act Together. Enough said.
If you or someone you know is doing their bit to make the world more accessible then please do get in touch and lets let people know https://awheelandaway.com/contact/
To hear more about the 25th World Scout Jamboree please visit https://www.scouts.org.uk/volunteers/running-your-section/international-scouts-and-events/international-events/wsj/