I'm off to the mountains of Northern Laos tomorrow with some Australian wheelchair athletes who, in a positive demonstration of the strength and spirit of people with disability, will hand cycle some 500 kilometres from Luang Prabang (the old capital) to Vientiane (the current capital). The hand cyclists ride special bikes - propelled as the name suggests by hand - which need to be freighted from Australia and back again. Some family and friends will accompany the ride but they will use conventional bikes hired in Laos - thus supporting the local economy.
This ride has been organised by a Melbourne organisation, Disability Sport & Recreation and is one of series of rides to different countries over the past few years. This year’s ride to Laos is being supported by Uniting Journeys who are working in conjunction with Jetaway Travel. The emphasis along the way is responsible travel and the trip will culminate in Vientiane with a visit to the Laos Disabled Peoples Association to learn more about their work.
Following as part of a letter I sent to the travellers on this trip:
As you probably know this trip is being supported by Uniting Journeys working in conjunction with Jetaway Travel. Uniting Journeys is part of the Uniting Church but the Uniting Journeys program is not about matters of religion rather it is about the concept of responsible travel: what it means, why we need to think about it and how we can enhance it.
The program has a number of volunteers (of which I’m one) and one of our roles is to travel – with the loose title of ‘Conversation Partner’ – with groups supported by Uniting Journeys. This doesn't for a moment suggest that I (or anyone) necessarily know the answers concerning responsible travel. The goal is more about raising the questions and, as needs be, having the conversations about what it means to travel, particularly to poorer, developing countries.
I start from the basis that all travel could be good – for both the travellers and the people/countries being visited. It should be enriching for the visitors as well as the hosts. Unfortunately much modern travel seems to be in a different space. I recently saw advertised some holiday accommodation for over $800 per night in a country where the local staff are probably only being paid a couple of dollars a day!
Our trip to Laos on the other hand has been put together with some thought as to how we interact with the Lao community. And of course it is special as it is a cycling challenge (which in itself is a sustainable form of transport).
Responsible travel has many facets including the ideas around sustainable travel and accessible travel and it is these aspects that I am particularly keen to observe as we travel through the Lao countryside.
Have a look at the link below. Hopefully it will explain the rationale behind Uniting Journeys …
The video is available here: https://vimeo.com/122605312
In the picture above we are enjoying each other's company and some pizzas in Albert Park in a pre-trip meeting.
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