Imagine discovering the country of India which conjures up images of lush green paddy fields, brightly coloured saris, jasmine scented incense, ancient palaces and adorned maharajahs. A huge country, India is often known as the Indian subcontinent; at 3,287,240 km2 it makes number 7 on the top ten largest countries by landmass on earth.
Now imagine undertaking this challenge with a physical disability along with four able bodies guys from Rolls-Royce, discovering breath-taking mountains of the Himalayas as well as spending time in the slums of Delhi working on a local community project which caters for disabled children.
Julie McElroy from Glasgow, Scotland did just that, she flew out to Delhi with the boys from Rolls Royce naming Alan Mileham, Colin Summers, Graeme Hughes and Gordon Barr. She was born with Cerebral Palsy which has resulted in a mobility problem such as having walking difficulty. She also has a mild speech impairment along with a manual dexterity problem and is profoundly deaf and wear two hearing aids.
Since childhood, Julie have embarked on various challenges and spearheading new initiatives however this latest challenge was going to take her into terrority to see firsthand how some of the poorest disabled children lives in India and scaling new heights in the Himalayas. This exploit was to be completely different but was a desire that Julie had longed wished for to join an able bodies group on an expedition as she wants to embraced inclusion among her able bodies peers. When asking Alan and Colin about Julie joining them on the Indian’s expedition ‘The team have had limited exposure to disabled people and no prior experience with disabled adults. However we have a good team working spirit and early on we wanted Julie to be part of our team. Though good spirit and intentions are not always enough, I think that a little more research about the terrain and techniques for assisting people could have better prepare us for the Himalayas with Julie’.
In the build-up preparation, Julie forged a firm friendship with theboys as they set about climbing Ben Lomond together. This was great day out Julie recalled as it was good team-building day and this allowed the boys to see firsthand how I coped with the uneven terrain however she confessed she was extremely lucky to be given this opportunity and felt reassured to be in capable hands with the strongest boys on the planet!
Julie’s easiness and her ability to get on with anyone, she alleviated the fears and concerns that the boys of Rolls Royce had as Alan cited from ‘Our initial contact with Julie was via e-mail and a good rapport was quickly built up, I guess putting us at ease with each other. The team were a little nervous prior to meeting Julie mainly down to concerns around communicating (deafness and speech)this was quickly put at ease when we realised we could easily understand Julie and with a little thought Julie could understand us (if we were talking directly to her). “Also I found myself adapting very quickly after meeting Julie. In the way that I talk, ensuring not to put my hands over my mouth when speaking and always addressing her face to face to allow her to lip read more’.
On arrival in Delhi, the team’s first stop was to visit the slums of Delhi and to pay a visit to the community project that the team would be working on. The project is runs by a charity called Deepalaya, is a non -government development organization working on issues affecting the urban and rural poor, with a special focus on children. It is because ‘Every child deserves a chance’ that the organization exists and works towards making that possible. For the past 32 years Deepalaya has been working in the urban slums of Delhi and has also made inroads into rural development in the states of Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand.
For Julie, this was a personal and emotional journey to see some of the disabled children that lives in the slums as she commented when you see it on the TV’s news, you take an interests in it but when you come out to witness it for yourself it gives you a completely different prescriptive on how these children live and survive daily. It also made me realized how fortunate we are to have access to good health service.
Just walking through the slums of Delhi with Alan and our guide, it was unbelievable, poor sanitation, malnourished children, the smell says it all. It truly opens your eyes to how these poor disadvantage children survived. One thing that I was constantly aware of although I got used to it, is the amount of Indian people looking at you, if you were Western then they were bounce to scared at you but if you had a disability the scaring becomes noticeable as in India, people with disabilities are not seen in public, we saw some Indians with disabilities crawling on the street. Even working on the community project, we interacted with the children who have profound learning disabilities.
What really saddened me is that during my years of education we had technologies to aids us with our learning and I believed without a doubt if these children were provided a basic laptop this would enhanced their intellectual ability rather than struggle to write on a piece of paper. India is still a developing country and still has a long way to when it will embrace people with disability as in the same way as the UK, they are now recognizing the talents of disabled people.
On meeting Julie, she possesses the drive and determination to leads an independent life however during her trek in the Himalayas she admitted this was far harder than all her previous exploits as she was among an able bodies group. I found the terrain in the Himalayas tough at times to walk on. It was so frustrating and emotional at times because I kept falling a lot whereas at home I rarely fall.
First thing she noticed that the terrain was completely different as when she out in the countryside back in Scotland, she uses her walking poles to assists her whereas in India she relied on help from the boys and the boys were happy to provide assistance saying that
‘When Julie finally allowed us to support we quickly developed a good technique, that with the support of two of the team we could get over a range of different obstacles on the assent. It was very clear to me that Julie was having to work around twice as hard as her able-bodied team mates. The main thing we all noticed was Julies determination and she gained the respect of the team through her tenacity and toughness’. Nobody there was in any doubt that Julie gave 100% effort on the day and pushed herself to the limits of her abilities‘.
The community project was my most rewarding experience out of the whole trip because she could understand and empathized with the children’s difficulties. Whereas the Himalayas presented her with even greater challenges however this trek in the Himalayas has inspired Julie to decide what she will do next!
For Julie and the boys of Rolls Royce, although this intensive expedition was challenging, it has changed them in how the perceived about life, forces Julie and boys about assumptions of someone having a disability who equally capable as Colin puts it ‘travelling with Julie has changed some preconceptions I had around people with disabilities in a positive way’.
Personally for Julie, she feels this trek had marked a new vision in her life. When asking what she will do next she says ‘That would be telling!’