JoLt 1984 – Siberia, Mongolia, China and Hong Kong
It is only several weeks after the end of the journey that one can stand back and objectively asses the value of taking a group of under privileged young people on a journey across Siberia and Mongolia to China and Hong Kong. After the initial excitement of this amazing journey has died down, one must ask whether 18 months of very hard work by so many people was worthwhile, whether JoLt’84 achieved its aims and objectives and whether the Trust should continue its work of raising funds and organising such journeys.
On 17th July 1984, fifteen young people, two teachers and a doctor set out on their four week journey which would take them by air to Moscow and Irkutsk (Siberia), by train across Mongolia and the Gobi Desert to Peking, by river boat down the mighty River Yangtze, by air from Shanghai to Guangzhou and eventually by train to Hong Kong. The beauty and peace of Lake Baikal; the Great Wall of China; the concert given especially for us by blind workers; the time spent helping farmers clear a field; deaf strangers who became friends in a crowded train in Moscow and in the crowded streets of China; participating in various activities in a Children’s Palace; being greeted by all sixty four firemen in full uniform at a Fire Station in Shanghai; strolling down side streets at night; playing table tennis against astonishingly talented nine year olds; meeting the disabled and young people ‘waiting for work’; seeing a body float past as we sailed through the beautiful Yangtze Gorges – are all moments that will never be forgotten and which made the journey unique.
The serious faces and feeling of repression in Moscow were relieved by a very happy evening at the British Embassy as guests of Sir Iain and Lady Sutherland. The further we travelled the happier people seemed to become. We arrived in Ulan Bator, capital of Mongolia, a day late. No one expected us and no one appeared to speak English. However, after us eventually made ourselves understood, we were made to feel extremely welcome and nothing was too much trouble for our Mongol friends. The thrill of being seen off at Ulan Bator station by James Patterson, HM Ambassador in Mongolia, made even the long waits (up to 9 hours with temperatures in the 90s) at border crossings seem like fun.
Mass at 6.30 am at a Roman Catholic Church was followed by a very happy and relaxing day spent with the families of the British Embassy staff in Peking. Although the Embassy was extremely busy that day (Sir Geoffrey Howe and the Governor of Hong Kong were in Peking and negotiations about the future of Hong Kong were in full swing) they still made us feel that they had all the time in the world just for us. After the barbecue by the Embassy pool, we were greatly honoured by being told that the profits from the Embassy Ball, due to be held the following Friday, would be sent to the JoLt Trust. In such situations it is difficult to adequately express our thanks.
It is equally difficult to express our gratitude to Roger Rankin, Managing Director of Dawsons International (SE Asia) Limited. He took us in two beautiful junks to the outlying islands and made a group of under privileged youngsters feel like millionaires. They will never forget that day.
What then did the young people themselves gain from such a journey? It is difficult to generalise because to each youngster it meant something different. However, it was marvellous to see them grow in confidence, to see a girl, who was so frightened at her interview that she had difficulty holding back tears, gradually realise that she had much to contribute and that people were interested in her and what she had to say. Several other painfully shy members of the group gradually came out of their shells and became confident young people who are now more likely to impress interviewers when they go looking for work.
The journey widened their horizons and made them aware of poverty and the problems of developing countries. It made them aware of internal political problems; aware of international problems; aware of the different types of communism and very aware of how much better off they were living in Britain. They came to appreciate much more all that they had previously taken for granted and it also surprised them to learn that a communist state is not a welfare state.
For some, the journey taught them to care about and look after other people, rather than thinking only of themselves. Some, for the first time, learnt to give and receive affection. For some, it meant learning to live closely with and to relate to an adult. Others learnt to look after their own money and make decisions. Two boys learnt to iron their own clothes. They learnt to be more tolerant of other countries and other people and we like to think that the venture gave them greater inner strength and the confidence to tackle the many problems that they will later face.
In addition to the stresses of living closely with seventeen strangers on a long and tiring journey, the group also had to learn to communicate with the two deaf young people who were two of the liveliest members of the group.
The overwhelming feeling, by those who took part, is that the journey was highly successful and very worthwhile and that the Trust must continue its excellent work. It is very encouraging that so many of the JoLt’84 participants are keen to raise funds for JoLt’86.
We wish every happiness to the fourteen young people who contributed so much as well as benefited so much from the venture, and we hope that they will continue to see us as friends to whom they can turn to in times of trouble and in times of joy.
To His Majesty King Hussein of Jordan, to the Firemen of Paddington, Brixton and Plaistow Fire Stations, to Harrow School, to Pringle of Scotland, to a very generous lady who wishes to remain anonymous, we owe much for their financial and moral support. Without their help and the help of over a hundred companies and institutions this venture would never have succeeded.
We are indebted to our many friends at home who have worked so hard to raise money for us and to the many new friends who helped us along the way. We thank you all for your support and friendship. Above all, we thank you for caring.
On a personal note, I would like to thank Enid Sharpe and Rachel Bryans have done so much to set up and run the Trust. Without their help and support the Trust would never have been founded. I am particularly grateful to Claire Walford and Clive Ridgeon who helped me lead JoLt’84. The success of the journey owes much to these very special people.
Participants: Ercan Ali, Jayne Ellison, Rosslyn Farrow, Shelley Gan, Georgina French, Nick Gray, Debra Henery, Tony Kalsey, Maria Maguire, Michael Murphy, Roy Pickering, Julie Smyth, Shirley Thomson, Vicky Wilkes.
Leaders: Dorothy Dalton, Clive Ridgeon, Claire Walford.