Bader Grant Recipient, PHILIP OAKLEY was selected as a leader for a 5 week British Schools Society (BSES) expedition to the Amazonian Rain Forest during July/August 2012.
Phil is a below the knee amputee keen to show that it is possible to take the ‘dis’ out of disabled. His challenge is to remain an effective ‘able’ leader on an ‘able-bodied’ expedition as a canoe and jungle leader. We are very grateful to him for sending a report of his experience.
Please read his inspirational article and enjoy his photographs below. Philip hopes his experience “inspires others to get out there to explore and discover“.
Last summer, I was a canoe/jungle leader with the British Schools Exploring Society expedition to the Peruvian Amazon Rain Forest. This five-week scientific expedition involved 50 teenagers from various schools across the UK. “The Object of the Society is to advance the education of young people by providing inspirational and challenging scientific expeditions to remote, wild environments and so promote the development of their confidence, teamwork, leadership and spirit of adventure and exploration.”
Everyone on expedition had to pay their own way, including leaders. The Douglas Bader Foundation supported me by contributing towards my costs. This was my first major expedition since becoming a below knee amputee, four years after loosing my foot to cancer. Before amputation, I organised and lead on various expeditions and was actively involved in outdoor education. I was determined to continue as normal. This was a mainstream expedition and I was part of the “able-bodied” leader team.
This expedition provided support for British and Peruvian scientist assessing the biodiversity of the Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve through wildlife population surveys. The size of Wales, this national park is one of the few pristine jungles in the world, home to some of the most endangered species on the planet. It was a real privilege to spend five weeks living in and helping the indigenous Cocama people protect this special environment.
The heat and high humidity did not cause any problems with my stump or fitting and it did not stop me from performing as a leader. Walking in the jungle was much easier than I thought and when I stood on a coral snake, it improved my odds of being bitten. Sleeping in a hammock was more of a challenge. After one night sleeping with a foot inside the hammock, frequently waking-up with it sticking into various parts of my anatomy, I decided to leave it underneath the hammock, hoping it did not attract too much attention from the wildlife.
I have been involved in expeditions and outdoor adventure for many years and have not come across amputees. It would be great to see more (especially young people) getting involved in outdoor adventurous activities, as amputation should not stop adventure and discovery.
Many congratulations from all at the DBF, Philip, for undertaking and completing this fascinating and challenging journey and our thanks for sharing your experiences.
We always love to receive first-hand reports of events and challenges so please send yours in so that others may be inspired or at least do a bit of vicarious travelling!