Let me tell you guys something about my new adventure. In October I got an e-mail from Jonas, a youth counselor by heart. He works for Groep Intro, an organisation that focuses on personal growth and an inclusive society. One of the things they to is guide young people who have some issues at school and/or at home.
Initially Jonas asked me if I wanted to share my story with the boys and girls he works with. He thought it could work motivationally… I still think it is crazy that my story can motivate others ;). To add an extra dimension to their upcoming trip, he got another crazy idea: he wanted me to accompany him and a group youngsters on a trip. It was not a journey to some exotic and luxury destination (would also have been nice), but a camping trip in Wallonia. Three days back to basics. Three days without electricity and running water. Three days of cooking food on a campfire and sleeping in a tent. Without even thinking about the practical side, I said YES!
You must know, the last time I slept in a tent was on a camp with my youth movement during summertime. Now – in the Easter holidays – it can be really cold at night. So there was een extra factor I had to deal with. Because when I get cold my muscles contract together and that makes it a lot harder for me to sit up straight. But don’t underestimate my assistent. She was well prepared and worked out a whole ‘Keep-Charlie-Warm-Plan’ for the nights, heat jugs, an extra thick mattress and special blankets included. (You know, the ones the firefighters use when you are supercooled, aka: onderkoeld in dutch ;).)
The trip itself
Before we went on the trip I was feeling a little nervous because I was a bit worried about the opinion of the youngsters. What would they think about me? Do they have questions? Do they know why I am joining them and do they even want and like that? When I met some of them a couple of weeks before departure, some of their responses were quite reserved, which made me feel a bit insecure. But, I gathered all my courage and intended to be open to what would come.
Luckily, my fear was unfounded. From the moment we arrived on the camp site – which was just a meadow for cows – it seemed like the most normal thing in the world that I was cruising around in my wheelchair. They started asking questions straight away and were really openminded, which made me feel welcome.
In the evening we made a bonfire. Despite the fact that is was raining it was still very cosy. When someone gave me a compliment about how cool she thought it was that I was there with them, I definitely felt part of the group.
The night fell over the beautiful valley in the Ardennes. We stayed up late talking about all kinds of things. When everyone went to bed it was time to test the Keep-Charlie-Warm-Plan. And guess what? It worked! I was still a hot Charlie in the morning ;). Literally! The challenge of sleeping in a tent under five degrees celsius? Check, check doublecheck! My family didn’t believe I could do that, but I proved them wrong, didn’t I?
Before we went on the trip Jonas and the other counselors prepared a lot of challenging activities and wanted to involve me in all of them. Thanks guys! 😉 On the first night there was a walk through an old tunnel but because of the rain and cold my assistant and I guarded the bonfire. Don’t underestimate that critical job… The other day I also skipped the paintball because I thought it was too much fuss to change my electrical wheelchair for a manual one. Yeah, sometimes I’m lazy, I know. There were also other activities like climbing to a ruined castle on the hill and a game in the Fondry des Chiens, but the paths were too steep to get there safely.
Looking back at the weekend I realised that those activities were actually just a sideshow. The most important thing was the connection we made with eachother while talking about our different problems and blessings. It was the first time I really felt that even though we have different issues, dreams and backgrounds, we have much more in common than you would think at first sight. Everyone was very openminded and respected eachother. No one judged the book by its cover.
Another thing I realised was that the youngsters didn’t see me as Charlie-in-a-wheelchair but as Charlie. Just Charlie. If everyone would react the way they did when meeting someone in a wheelchair, the world would be more easy for people with a disability. Thanks again, I really enjoyed it! Also a big thanks to J & N for organizing this amazing trip, you did a great job, like some of the youngsters also told you when the three days were over. You are all beautiful souls, each and everyone of you. 😉
Always fashionable even on a campingtrip #personalmake-upartist
PS: the reactions on Facebook the weeks after were heartwarming. Everyone wanted to go back, including me!