Carried Away

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Have you ever dreamed of travelling the world? For Kevan Chandler this was something he had always wanted to do. He dreamed of backpacking through Europe. There was just one problem, Kevan is a wheelchair user. He has Spinal Muscular Atrophy, a degenerative disorder that affects his muscles. Most people would think that this would rule out any chance that Kevan could realise his dream but they would be wrong. After all where there is a will there is always a way. This past summer Kevan finally achieved his goal when he and his friends set off on a three-week trip. But it wasn’t as easy as just clicking their heels and taking off to Europe. It involved a bit more planning than that.

First he and his friends had to design and build a special backpack that allowed them to carry Kevan on their backs. His pals then spent months training to build up the strength they needed in order to carry 65-pound Chandler around England, Ireland and France. Yes that’s right, Kevan’s friends agreed to take it in turns to carry their friend on their backs so that he could fulfil his dream. You might think that the gang chose accessible locations in order to make things easier for themselves, wrong again. The idea was to travel to places that his wheelchair could never take  him. One of these places was a sixth century monastery in Skellig Micheal off the coast of Ireland. There were 600 steps standing between Kevan and that monastery but that didn’t stop them from reaching their destination.

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My philosophy is just to keep moving” Kevan Chandler

This crazy idea was first hatched back in 2013 when Chandler took on urban splanking with a group of mates. The sewers of Indiana mightn’t seem like the most accessible place for someone in a wheelchair because well, they are not. However with a little help from his friends Kevan was able to take part. After this adventure he had well and truly caught the travel bug. He began to dream of going to other far off places. When Kevan first ran the idea passed his friends he was surprised that they were so excited by it. He couldn’t believe the trip of a life time was really going to happen or that they would do this for him. The next challenge that the group faced was to raise the money so that they could actually go. They couldn’t afford to fund the trip by themselves. Kevan set up a GoFundMe page and asked people to donate money. They called the project ‘We Carry Kevan‘ Their motto is “there is no I in Kevan.” It was a team effort all the way.

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When I see a mountain and I’m filled with fear, I go for it anyway. Because we’re all broken, some are just more obviously broken, and life, regardless of the disease, is a beautiful gift.” Kevan Chandler

Their story received a lot of attention online and really seemed to strike a chord with people. They did many interviews and became known around the world. People were truly inspired by this act of friendship. The money was quickly raised and on June 19th 2016 they were off. Chandler is a writer and so he had planned to write a book about their adventure upon their return. However energised by the positive response they received the team decided to have a film crew accompany them on their travels so they could document the trip. It was a way of bringing everyone who donated money along for the ride. Both of these projects are in the works and will be out later this year. Kevan and his team hope that it will show people that they can do anything they set their mind too and not to let their limitations hold them back.

Kevan has captured the publics imagination due to his positive, tenacious attitude to life. He attributes this to his parents and his sister Connie who also has SMA. Even though the trip is done Kevan hopes that he and his team can continue to inspire people with disabilities to achieve their goals. He also hopes that there might be more trips in their future. They have their heart set on China and walking a portion of the Great Wall. As a person with a disability I was obviously drawn to Kevan’s story. I love to travel but it’s not always easy to do as not all places are accessible to me. However that’s not really the part of Kevan’s story that interests me the most. Of course it’s very impressive that they built this backpack that can carry him. What really amazes me is that his friends would do this for him and that he would let them. After all so many things could have gone wrong. What if one of his friends had fallen or gotten hurt? He had to completely trust them. His friends also had to trust each other in order to complete the journey.

They shared many pictures of the trip online. (NOTE These are not my pictures) Some of the places they traveled to really did look scary but when Kevan was asked what was the most frightening part of the whole journey his answer was surprising. It wasn’t the trip or the rocky terrain, it wasn’t climbing mountains or sleeping outdoors. It was asking his friends for help that first time. Even though he was in the safety of his own home at the time, taking that risk was the most frightening part for him. I think we can all relate to that feeling. We are all reluctant to ask for help or put ourselves out there. Kevan took that chance and he and his friends had a life changing adventure as a result.

That stepping out, going from the safety of my brain to out in the open – there’s no turning back then…We all have dreams and crazy ideas lingering in the back of our minds, but when you’ve got a good one, it takes unbelievable courage to transition it from the confines of your mind to a public expression…..So, as adventurous and ominous some of the moments were in the trip, I think those initial steps of publicising were the bravest. ” Kevan Chandler

To me that is the bravest part of their story. I really admire Kevan and his friends for doing it and for trusting in each other. Kevan had to leave his wheelchair behind and totally rely on his friend to carry him from place to place. I would be truly terrified to leave the comfort of my chair, my wings and trust someone else to transport me. His friends were honoured and humbled that they were able to help him fulfill his dream. That really is true friendship on both sides. Perhaps if we all asked for help more often or if we offered to carry each other a bit more the world would be a better place. To find out what’s next for Kevan and his team check out their website http://www.wecarrykevan.com. I can’t wait to see what else they have in store.

 

 

*All pictures are property of Kevan Chandler

Literary Review

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The working title for my dissertation is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: Existing in Literature. It looks at gender, race and disability in literature. I am using Adichie’s work as the focus of my topic but I will also be using other writers to illustrate these points. The core texts by Adichie are Purple Hibiscus, Americanah, Half of a Yellow Sun and Thing Around Your Neck. This book is a collection of short stories so I will be using a sample of them in my writing. Her first novel Purple Hibiscus was published in 2003. It is set in post colonial Nigeria. It is the story of fifteen year Kambili Achike and her brother Jaja. They come from a wealthy family dominated by her devoutly Catholic father, Eugene. Eugene is both a religious zealot and a violent man. Because it is set in post colonial Nigeria it deals with many of the issues of race that I would like to discuss in my thesis. The fact that it is also told through the eyes of a child is also very useful. These issues stand out more and resonate with the reader because everyone can relate to the voice of a child no matter what age they are.

The second book that I will be looking at is Half of a Yellow Sun. This is her most famous novel. It has recently been made into a feature film staring Thandie Newton. The book was published in 2006 and it won the Orange Prize for Fiction. It is once again set in Nigeria during the time of the Biafran war in the 1960’s. It looks at the effect of the war on Nigeria. It examines how little notice the rest of the world took to the plight of the Nigerian people. The two main characters are sisters. This book will be useful because it examines these women lives by exploring themes of race and gender. Another one of the main characters is an English man named Richard. The perspective of an outsider is also very beneficial for my writing because it looks at the contrast between Nigeria and an empire like England. The differences between the way these characters are treated in society are of course very stark. This will allow me to demonstrate to the reader how people of a different race and gender were treated at the time this book is set.

Adichie’s book The Thing Around Your Neck is a very varied collection of stories that also deals with all of these with themes. I will need to select them carefully and choose the best and most appropriate stories that advances my writing. The fourth and most recently published book Americanah was written in 2013. The book was selected as one of the 10 Best Books of 2013 by the editors of the New York Times Book Review. It won the 2013 National Book Critics Circle Award and it was shortlisted for the 2014 Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction.

It is different to other books because it is a love story. The characters are again Nigerian but the story travels to many other places. This allows the reader to see the characters interacting with people from outside their cultures. This is useful to me because it is a modern account of race. The book follows these characters who leave their home in Nigeria and travel to the West. I think that it is very useful to use Nigeria as a starting point when looking at the subject of race because it is an african country. African culture is often misrepresented in literature. It is very different to our own and that often leaves it open to misinterpretation and generalisations that leave out too much of the story. This can leave the reader with a very narrow view point. I hope to be able to expand the readers mind as well as my own and help to fill some of the gaps that have been left out in other accounts of African culture. The fact that this novel is set in such a modern times helps my writing because I can give a more accurate account of race and gender nowadays. I am using these texts because I believe that Adichie’s work explains the point I am trying to make in my thesis really well. I have read all of Adichie’s novels but I am looking forward to re-examining them over the next few months with my thesis question in mind.

I am also going to explore some of the writers that Adichie says influenced her writing. One such writer is Chinua Achebe. He has had a profound affect on Adichie’s writing. His most famous book Things Fall Apart is the story of a yam farmer named Okonkwo who lives during the colonisation of Nigeria.  This book and another of Achebe’s called Arrow of God will provide me with another example of life in an African country. I want to be able to give an accurate account of the representation of race in these stories. The fact that Achebe is a male writer is also useful because it will give me a male and female perspective.

As I mentioned in my introduction disability is also one of the main topics in my thesis. Adichie’s work does not cover this issue directly. However many of the issues that arise when she writes about race are similar. Therefore I will have to expand my search outside of her work. I have recently been introduced to a writer called Tom Shakespeare. He is a sociologist that has written many books on these topics. I am currently looking at his research. I have so much more to read but so far I am really interested in his work. It touches on issues of feminism and anti-racism as wll. The things that he talks about explore many of the issues I hope to cover in my thesis. Some of his writing includes a book called Disability Right’s and Wrongs. He later revised this book, Disability Right’s and Wrongs Revised. Here Shakespeare examines disability in terms of the social model and how inaccurate it can be. I hope to argue that this approach adds to the singular representation of people with disabilities in modern literature.

Through my research I discovered many other books that will aid me in my writing. The first is a book called Gendering Disability by Adrienne Asch. This book examines gender and disability roles and allows the reader to see how society stereotypes these groups. Society often believes that putting people into boxes helps us to understand things better but really it hinders us. These boxes make it harder for us to see the real truth. This leads us to a lot of hurt and misunderstanding. I hope to use Asch’s book to dispher some of these myth’s.  Another book by the same author called Women with Disabilities: Essays in Psychology, Culture, and Politics goes into further details about women with disabilities and the general perceptions that are out there. This book is useful because it includes a lot of psychological statistics as well as personal accounts. I will also be looking at Feminist Disability Studies. This book explores both feminist theory and disability studies. It examines what is considered normal in society when it comes to functionality and appearance.

I hope to use these books to help me to illustrate how social norms have impacted on popular culture. I want to examine story telling and how it is constructed. A book that has been really fascinating to me is called Diversity in Disney Films: Critical Essays on Race, Ethnicity, Gender, Sexuality and Disability. This book looks at classical fairy tales that we all grew up with and challenges their representation of Race, Gender and Disability. These works along with Gendering Disability by Jacob Jutta have helped me to challenge my own perceptions of these issues as well as trying to show others. These are the key aspects of my dissertation and so I am very interested in writing about what I have learned from these texts. I know that I have only scratched the surface. There is so much more to learn and I look forward to discovering more as I continue to explore the material.