I was standing in a group of 40 in the mountains on the Polish-Czech border. We were saying the prayers to bring in the day of rest in the Jewish calendar, Shabbat, but the group was only about 50% Jewish. There were Muslims and Christians and a Hindu, not just from London, but from Ireland, Latvia, Czech Republic, Israel, Malta, the United States and Poland too. Ian Fagelson, who inspired the event, introduced the Jewish traditions by talking about the attempt by the Nazi’s to kill off the Jews in this area, but here we were still standing.
Our group didn’t just contain Jews that would have been killed by Hitler, but we also had a couple of the service users of Norwood, handicapped but “highly functioning”, they still would be considered by the Nazi’s as too different and hence would have been sent to the gas chambers too. It was poignant on this trip to also respect the American traditions of the 4th July and discover more things about the Hindu and Muslim traditions.
There was no prejudice here, no preaching about how “our way is better than yours”, simply respect of others.
We spent 3 solid days hiking up to the top of the hills, along the plateau with some stunning views, and then down across the border into a valley to stay for the next night. On a trip like this you get to speak to people from all walks of life: there were innovators in business, technical strategists, business consultants, lawyers, charity workers, event coordinators, doctors and inspirational care workers who would take on the physical challenge whilst helping the service users for the rest of the day, ready for anything 24/7.
For me it was a time to decompress from staring at a screen all day. It was a time to reflect on life, on love and to contemplate the bigger picture rather than focusing on day to day tasks. Whilst in the mountains for 10 hours a day hiking you are more open to share your life with your fellow ramblers. Immediately friendships are made as you learn the details of other’s lives in a relaxed environment; somewhere you feel you can share everything.
The people on the trip are outgoing enough to make the time and effort to fundraise, to travel somewhere new; they are adventurous enough to take part and are therefore incredibly interesting to talk to.
You are told about other’s experiences, what they chose to do in life, what they are doing now and what they plan to accomplish in the future. With a diverse mix, you really get to experience the paths you haven’t yet walked (pun intended). People are relaxed to share their failures too, not just their successes and you have enough time to go into detail to learn what to do and what not to do.
Not only this, but it is wonderful to see the service users experiencing life and travel. Not so long ago and without services like Norwood, these people would have little chance to explore the world, let alone take on a physical challenge like this.
I highly recommend a Norwood challenge like this – something to perhaps take you out of your comfort zone. In fact, if you don’t enjoy it then I will give you your money back!
Life is made up of experiences, and if you haven’t experienced anything, you haven’t lived!