Phil Oakley reports from Borneo expedition

Phil with his dive buddies

We are very grateful to Phil Oakley for sending us a report of his recent amazing trip to Borneo with Camps International.

Phil, a lower limb amputee, and Bader Grant recipient, doesn’t let his amputation stop him travelling all over the world. He has already written a report from the Amazonian Rain Forest where he was in July/August last year and is now heading off to Morocco in 2 weeks to climb Jebel Toubkal. He has kindly offered to send us a report of that climb on his – probably exhausted! – return so check in to see it. All at the Douglas Bader Foundation wish Phil the very best of success with this climb – his first since becoming an amputee.



Phil is an inspiration in true Bader spirit, which is why the DBF was delighted to be able to help him to achieve his goals with a Bader Grant. We will be expanding our Bader Grant initiative next year so please do contact us if you’d like to apply for a Grant to help you achieve one of your own goals.


 BORNEO 2013 – A Report by Phil Oakley

After last year’s adventures in the Amazon rain forest, this year I found myself in Borneo with the charity organisation called Camps International.  I went with four students from my school, who were teamed-up with two others schools.   Camps International provides young people with the opportunity to help with worthwhile projects in various countries around the world. Our projects included helping to complete a community centre in a rural village, laying bricks for a kitchen and toilets (including making the bricks) for a new kindergarten and painting at a new rural school.  A more adventurous project for the teenagers was to spend three nights in the jungle, sleeping in hammocks.  With great anticipation and nervousness, they were taken into the jungle by boat along a crocodile infested river.  After several sightings of crocs lying on the mud banks, everyone was nervous sleeping so close to the river.  But their fears were soon forgotten once they got stuck into the re-forestation project.


A croc on the riverbank in Borneo. Photo by Phil Oakley


A marine conservation project took the teenagers to the remote island of Mantanani. Here they helped clear the beaches of washed up rubbish, helped educate the locals in marine conservation (as well as themselves), building communal village toilets (with a filtration system) to help prevent human waste ending up in their water source and building a craft shop from washed up water bottles so the locals can sell their crafts to visiting tourists. Some of their time on the island was spent gaining the PADI open water diving qualification. During their dives they found ‘Nemo’ (these are the reefs where this lives) and saw evidence of the very destructive practice of ‘blast fishing’ by some locals.  Being a PADI Advanced diver myself, I dived for the first time without a dry suit.  My fear was that my leg would come off being directly exposed to the sea water.  But, no problem.  It stayed on during each dive, even down to 17 meters (although I had it tied on with chord).

The group on Mantanini. Photo by Phil Oakley


During the trip I was very much involved in all the projects.  Initially the Camps International staff didn’t realise I had one foot and assumed I just had a bad knee!  Once they realised, they were impressed with how it didn’t stop me from being a fully able participant. Even the 45 minute daily walk to one of the project sites didn’t cause a problem, despite the numerous students and teachers in other groups who complained and tried to get lifts!


I would like to thank the DBF for supporting me on my latest adventure.


My next adventure during the October half term will be mountain trekking with some of my students in the Moroccan High Atlas Mountains.  The main objective is to summit Jebel Toubkal.  At 4167m (13,672ft) it is North Africa’s highest peak. This will be my first major peak since becoming an amputee.


Phil Oakley


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Philip Oakley Rain Forest Expedition

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“.

Up the creek with one foot!

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.


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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!