I think I’ve started this blog post about six times but I’ve not been able to really find the best words to describe this trip, not sure I ever will. So I guess I'll just tell it from my own perspective, fully aware that I'll never do it justice; I just hope that perhaps some of the photos can speak for themselves and give a small indication of the weight of this trip and the lasting experience it has left me with.
There are a couple of photo's that I think sum up, for me what the trip was about. There are so many photos, what you see here is just a tiny fraction of all the memories and moments captured. The first one is of a Dad and his daughter at Sea World. The look of total adoration in his eyes; his daughter is smiling and she is happy, a fleeting moment in a whole whirlwind of a trip. The best thing is that amidst all of the things going on around them, they share this small moment together and to me it appears that time stands still for them.
Secondly, a photograph of Dad holding hands with their child on the flight over, this photo speaks more when you know a little about the huge challenges these children and their families face on a daily basis. Some of those we took have never flown before because of the implications of doing so, yet here they are, about to set off on a massive 9 hour flight to the destination of their dreams and they are doing it together. The strength I get personally from seeing that photo is immense, nothing was going to stand in the way of them getting over there - its almost as if the only thing that matters is the here and now and the direction they are headed in.
I also must mention the place our families stayed for the entire trip- Give Kids the World - the most INCREDIBLE resort whose staff give 100% to ensure everyone has the most amazing time there. Check out their website, its literally as if a child has designed their dream holiday destination, ice cream for breakfast, swimming pools, fun holiday lodges that look like they are out of the Flintstones, daily entertainment, the works!
A few days ago, I recieved a call from one of the parents of the children who came to Florida with us. Something she said on the phone stuck with me - said was that it was the most relaxed she has ever been on holiday - away from hospital appointments. She had never seen her son smile so much and she believed that it had come from his sense of the way she was feeling. She had total trust and faith in the staff, volunteers (shout out to the purple people!) and other families that came aboard. She loved the photo of just her and her son holding hands as they walked through Islands of Adventure and told me about how it made her cry because it summed up how at ease she was on the trip.
I could go on for hours and anyone who wants to meet me in person, I have a million little moments and stories that I could share with you, needless to say it was pretty much life changing. It was hard work and very emotional, especially given that many of the kids we took over are very poorly indeed. The kids and the families are incredible, the strongest of folk going through massive daily battles just to keep going.
The actual journey in terms of what logistics went a bit like this:
Day 1 - Arrive at Gatwick Hilton
Day 2 - Travel to Orlando Florida
Day 3 - Trip to Animal Kingdom
Day 4 - Trip to Magic Kingdom
Day 5 - Spent at Give Kids a World/Welcome fundraising cyclists
Day 6 - Trip to Hollywood Studios
Day 7 - Trip to Universal and Islands of Adventure
Day 8 - Trip to Seaworld
Day 9 - Pool Party and Flight back home
Day 10 - Arrival back at Gatwick
When I got back, I felt a sort of emptiness without the people that I had become so close to in such a short period of time. How privileged I was to have been at the forefront of the exact moment when these poorly children got to meet their hero’s.
It all felt really surreal and I’m desperately trying to cling on to all the memories I have.
Caudwell Children are such an amazing charity, to find out more or to donate, have a look here.