JoLt 1992 – Along the Silk Road
The wind whipped up in sudden bursts, creating short but biting sand storms that filled their eyes and mouths with sand. They paused, trying to shield their faces from the stinging sand and to rest awhile before they continued their journey upward. They were a strange group and the local men of the desert watched with amazement mixed with tremendous admiration. Those who were fit reached the top of the huge sand dune first although they experienced some difficulty towards the end of the climb. Behind them came the less fit and the partially disabled; panting as their feet sank deep into the sand with each slow step. Finally, struggling well behind the others came youngsters with quite severe disabilities. A boy with Spina Bifida who was normally confined to a wheelchair, made the climb backwards on his bottom, swinging his body between his arms as they bore his weight.
The first to the top hastened down to help and encourage the slowest. Gradually, with frequent stops, all who attempted the climb made it to the top and experienced the exhilaration that comes from achieving the impossible. Amid the swirling, blistering sand they whooped with delight and when at last they started to make their way down, they did so exhausted but happy.
They were a remarkable group: A boy with hemiplegia and a speech defect; another who had recently had a leg amputated because of cancer; a sixteen year old whose successful treatment for a cerebral tumour left him with a legacy of impaired vision, lack of growth and problems with gross-motor co-ordination. There was a cystic fibrosis sufferer who did his own physiotherapy; four deaf girls, one of whom had only recently been involved in a major road traffic accident that left her hearing impaired, covered in scars and feeling desperately alone and isolated.
There was a young woman, full of cheer and chatter who with her walking frame made light of her Cerebral Palsy; another, with hereditary ataxia which, despite many painful operations, had left her increasingly disabled and with a limited life expectancy. There were two other girls with Cerebral Palsy, one of whom had many personal challenges to overcome on the journey; a girl with Muscular Dystrophy and Scoliosis of the spine who was never expected to walk unaided yet was fully mobile; and a boy who was registered blind and who lived in a deprived area with little stimulation. The others, although physically able, had experienced severe neglect and emotional, verbal, physical and, in one case, sexual abuse. They were accompanied by six adults (including a doctor) as they made their 3,500 mile overland journey along the Silk Road from Beijing in China to Islamabad in Pakistan.
Their journey had started in early July with a long, and much delayed flight via Karachi to Beijing; but, their tiredness was soon forgotten when they swam under the stars at the British Embassy. Many strange and varied experiences followed thick and fast: Camping in Mongolian Yurts north of the Great Wall where they first came across horrendously smelling toilets of the squatting type over which the disabled girls had to be lifted; attempting to ride semi-wild Mongolian horses as the nomads whizzed past in every direction; struggling with wheelchairs among the teeming crowds on the Great Wall; searching for silk and bartering in the markets; heading out on a camel train across mighty sand dunes that unexpectedly appeared in the otherwise hard and barren Gobi and Taklimakan Deserts; pushing through dense crowds at railway stations and trying not to lose the group; struggling with chopsticks and Chinese food; waking up at the crack of dawn and collapsing exhausted after a long day’s travel; travelling at night along winding roads across mountains; being stranded in Xian because of mud-slides across railway tracks; visiting rehabilitation centres for the disabled and seeing massage and acupuncture being used to ‘cure’ disabilities.
In a journey filled with many highlights, they especially remember their last five days as they journeyed along the famous Karakoram Highway, past awe inspiring mountains covered in snow. They coped with the fright of a sudden burst tyre as the bus took a hair-pin bend and admired the skill of the driver as he took the bus safely across land and mud slides. They travelled through lawless, bandit country, meeting only kindness and friendship.
Their shared experiences helped to knit them into a close, supportive group. For the first time, many of the youngsters were able to talk about painful, unhappy experiences and gradually come to terms with situations that had previously left them feeling ashamed and worthless. Frustration and real unhappiness at learning to live with physical disabilities were faced as were worries associated with medical problems. Friendship problems arose occasionally but were usually soon resolved. One or two youngsters initially had problems integrating into the group and needed much help as did several young people who had difficulty with coping with their personal hygiene needs. As a group they were kind and caring, and were sensitive to each other’s needs and of each other’s vulnerabilities. They remained cheerful and good natured under difficult and primitive travelling conditions. Confidence and feelings of self-worth began to develop and they achieved much more than we, or they ever expected. Their own problems became more bearable as they came to understand the problems faced by other members of the group. They gave each other strength and friendship. They have every reason to feel immensely proud of their achievements.
The success of the journey owes much to the teamwork, courage, good humour and personalities of the youngsters and adults who participated. We wish every happiness to the twenty-four young people who contributed so much as well as benefited so much from the journey and we hope that they will continue to be able to turn to us in times of trouble and in times of happiness.
We owe much to His Majesty King Hussein of Jordan who has continued to support our work since the JoLt Trust was founded in 1983. His Majesty and the Royal Family are much in our thoughts as they cope with His Majesty’s ill-health.
Without the help of many individuals, companies and charitable trusts, the 1992 “Journey of a Lifetime” would never have been possible. We are greatly indebted to them and to our many friends who have worked so hard for us. We thank you all for your support and for your friendship. Above all we thank you for caring.
Participants: Lois Brownlee, Sarah Davies, Rachel Doidge-Harrison, Andrew Dundas, Lynne Fothergill, Julie Gould, Victoria Grantham, Duane Heveran, John Hojabri, Nicola Jones, Vicky Kent, James Lake, Janice Lang, Mark Lister, Amanda Marko, Jonathan McQueen, Kevin O’Toole, Heather Patterson, Lee Rollings, Anthony Speight, Stephen Sully, Stephen Walter, Stephen Watson, Marie Wilshaw.
Leaders: Dorothy Dalton, Claire Walford, Alan Buzza, Grant Higgins, Richard Walker.