To Africa With Autism
Melanie Cowpland and her nine-year-old daughter Sofia, from Liphook, are planning a trip from East London (UK) to East London (South Africa) – on a motorbike with a sidecar. They will be raising money for the Adventure Autism Foundation, a charity they have set up to provide unique opportunities for children and adults with autism.
Sofia was diagnosed with autism when she was four, so this will be an epic journey full of challenges and courage. The pair plan to start their adventure in December and expect to take 9 months to cross Europe then Africa from north to south.
Melanie, who is an experienced traveller, artist, author and spiritual coach, said: “I’ve always been an advocate for autism, in particular awareness of girls with autism, and I hope our journey will raise much-needed awareness of the need to grow and develop children with autism on a personal level so that they can realise their amazing potential.
Autistic children are incredibly gifted, and allowing them to discover their gift and use it is the very best outcome we can hope for. “I believe it will be an extraordinary adventure for Sofia. With autism, there is not only an inability to make sense of the external world but also the internal world.
This challenge will be an opportunity for Sofia to make better sense of who she is, what she is capable of, and who she is in the context of this world. She has always been fascinated by elephants, giraffes and zebras, so Africa will also be a chance for her to pursue this interest.”
The journey will be tough: mum and daughter will have to cope with the cold of winter in central Europe and Turkey, and the heat of the deserts of Africa. Boarders, language barriers, and not to mention the definition of ‘road’ being used rather loosely across Africa.
Physically, they are going to have go from couch potatoes to athletes before they leave, in order to cope with the rigors of the journey, which will largely be off road riding. Melanie has no previous experience of motorbikes, so she is learning from scratch not only to ride a motorbike to a level to meet conditions, but to know her way around the mechanics and maintenance.
They will both have to learn to live on the road and survival skills in the event things don’t quite go to plan. The main challenge of all this, though, is going to be Sofia’s autism. This will be a long, noisy journey on some very bumpy terrain, so all her sensitivities will be challenged, not to mention her many fears of the big wide world.
She will be receiving as much preparation as the plan itself to ensure that she knows exactly what it will be like to travel in the sidecar, and the various scenarios that she will be facing. It is also for this reason that the journey is likely to take 9 months as the time on the bike will have to be short and at times stops long for her to rest.
Sofia, will of course be home schooled during this journey, and Mum, who home schooled Sofia when she was younger, will ensure that the environment will be used as the tool to ensure she stays up to speed with her reading, writing and math. Sofia’s school is fully supportive of the growth opportunity this journey will provide for Sofia and as the planning process develops, Melanie will be involving the school on best learning strategies for Sofia.
Mum and daughter hope to raise awareness not only of autism, but of what is possible with autism. All funds will go to the Adventure Autism Foundation which will fund the trip, and which they have set up to give personal growth opportunities to children and adults who have been diagnosed with autism through the provision of grants.
This may include skills training for particular interests to help them find a career, or challenging experiences that will help them to discover who they really are and what they are capable of. Working locally initially, Melanie hopes that eventually grants will be available internationally.
Well-wishers can find more information and keep up to date with the trip by clicking LIKE on the Africa With Autism Facebook page. Donations are very gratefully received through GoFundMe.com. For more information go to AdventureWithAutism.com