Blog: Epic Adventures in a Wheelchair

By Evan Clulee

Evan writes about some of the adventures he's experienced in life.

I was honoured to have won the new Epic Award at the 2017 Attitude Awards for a video I posted of being hoisted up a tall ship mast! Very privileged to have won this award, especially since there are so many disabled people doing epic things, and living full and adventurous lives. Up until three months ago, I hadn’t stayed on a ship overnight, had never been on a tall ship, and had never seen islands in our Hauraki Gulf – now thanks to the charity Jubilee Sailing Trust (which has two fully accessible tall ships), I’ve done all these things.

Other epic crazy things I’ve done include: skydiving, white-water rafting, rock climbing and gliding (non-powered). Our family went camping often, and fishing was part of this. This instilled in me a love for the outdoors in our stunning country and a love of adventure. While all of these things are epic, none are the most epic thing I’ve done…

In 1998, I was given the opportunity to visit development work alongside disabled people in the Philippines. I took this opportunity, not realising that it’d be life changing. A 14-day trip to experience life with disabled people in San Rafael, Bulacan. I heard local stories, shared my own story, and gave hope to a few individuals. As I flew into Manila, it hit me that I was travelling alone for the first time! The nerves hit me. All previous overseas trips were comfortable as part of a sports team where we had support people. I hadn’t been to the Philippines, didn’t know the language and everything was new. While excited, I was also scared! 

The trip was confronting - seeing poverty up close. Seeing disabled people with no mobility equipment, but surviving due to family support.

I witnessed the dedicated staff at Hebron, a school which provide schooling for young children with autism and education in sign language for Deaf children; it was brilliant. I shared meals with families, and shared ideas around inclusion with disabled people which was valuable. Seeing the stunning country side and sunsets, and learning about the culture – Jeepneys, traysikel, carabao, and music and dance, the importance of hospitality, and the centrality of food - such a rich and deep culture. Epic memories!

I’ve since visited Hebron five times. It’s not always easy, in fact it’s hard and challenging – very hot and humid weather, different food, and places aren’t often wheelchair friendly, but it’s most definitely worth it! Each trip is different, but the friendships remain the same. It was brilliant to revisit in 2014 with our whole family to reconnect with friends. It was so good to develop long term friendships, where you build trust and can make a lasting difference.

We’ve continued encouraging development alongside disabled people, as well as encouraging the local San Rafael community to be inclusive.

Mostly we’re supporting local Filipinos to do what they do best, and to provide livelihood projects for individuals with disabilities, such as micro-enterprises. That way disabled people can earn a living for their families. We also contribute to Deaf children and young adults receiving an education. And provision of local sign language classes for their parents to ensure the Deaf can communicate with family. Our connection with Hebron continues to be life-changing.

Some of the highlights over my almost 20 years of return visits have included: encouraging Briccio, a young disabled man in his leadership of the local development. Seeing him now on National Philippines Disability boards and in places of influence is brilliant. Seeing Oliver, a paraplegic, who was on death’s door in 2002 due to kidney problems, healthy and walking with a walking frame! Thanks to the medical input and physio treatment he received at Hebron. Supporting JhoEvelyn, a young Deaf woman to access education for herself and for her family to learn sign language. Seeing her keen to learn and loving school was awesome.

Our ongoing journey with friends in San Rafael is both epic and deep. We look forward to visiting our Filipino friends again in the near future.

If you’re interested to know more about this development work in the Philippines, and how you could make a difference in the life of disabled Filipinos, please contact me.

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