As you well know by now, this blog deals with the different aspects of blending travel and autism. In the last few years, a new trend has emerged in the travel industry known as Volunteer Travel, which successfully combines the exploring of countries while helping the local population in their fight against poverty, diseases and other socio-economical problems. This interview describes (in their words) the plan of two young English students on a mission.
Peter and his friend David are starting out from Munich in late June, and will be travelling around the post-communist Eastern bloc, to raise awareness to the plight of over a million special needs minors in countries such as Romania, Hungary, Kosovo and Serbia.
What are the reasons that made you decide to go on your trek?
Well, the actual idea started about three months ago. We had bought tickets to a music festival in Germany and planned to continue traveling for a few weeks, after the festival.
However, two days after we purchased our tickets, my brother, who is severely disabled, was hospitalized with a stomach bug. Most of us would recover after a day, but due to his disabilities, he couldn’t fight it and was hours away from dying.
What ended up saving his life, were the qualified the medical staff and equipment he received while in the hospital. That got me thinking about children with the same needs and troubles as my brother, but without access to the treatment and facilities that saved his life. I’d seen feature films on the troubles facing physically challenged children in Eastern Europe before, so I suggested to my friend and partner, Dave that we visit and work as volunteers at institutions that deal with such children while documenting our journey.
Why did you choose to include these particular countries?
The map we have up is only a rough draft. We chose a selection of some of the poorer countries in Europe and set about trying to find institutions to visit. So far, it looks like we’ll be spending most of our time in Romania, Kosovo, and Serbia with brief stops in Bulgaria, Bosnia, and Hungary.
How does one prepare for such a journey?
We’ve done a bit of physical endurance training, so on average, we walk about 5 miles a day. That’s been the easy part. Getting publicity to our trek, and finding institutions has been the hard part. We decided to split the roles—I’ve taken the PR part and tried to advertise the trek as much as possible including contacting local media sources, the Facebook group, and handing out flyers.
Dave has taken on the role of finding institutions and has worked incredibly hard, sending countless e-mails and making numerous phone calls. Eventually, our persistence and hard work have paid off, and we’re happy with the publicity and contacts we’ve gained.A special mention to Amy Brett, Lucy Wallace, and Marija MJ for all their help with our trek.We could not have done it without them.
I understand you are traveling with a partner—could you please introduce him to our readers?
David Parlour, like me, has a physically challenged sibling and his mother and works in close collaboration with physically challenged children, so it’s a cause close to both of our hearts. A student is studying at Keele; he’s admirably split his time between his studies and preparing for the trek, as well as bankrolling the majority of the trip.
What do you expect to accomplish by your trek, and do you see any others in your future?
We hope to bring the plight of these children and the amazing work done by those who help them into the mainstream media’s attention. It surprises me that even though there are so many charities about, and yet we hear so little about these people and children.
Hopefully, this will spur people on, to donate and help any way they can. We’ve discussed doing treks in Asia and Africa in years to come, but there’s nothing at all being prepared just yet. All we can say for sure is this is going to be a life-changing experience, and we hope others will follow in our footsteps.