Al-Ahram Weekly   Al-Ahram Weekly
2 - 8 December 1999
Issue No. 458
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875 Issues navigation Current Issue Previous Issue Back Issues

 
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"'Pain is inevitable,
suffering is optional'"

By Reham El-Adawi

Raising awareness
ON A STOPOVER in Egypt during their worldwide tour, a wheelchair-bound American and his Indian wife say they hope to improve the quality of life of the disabled by raising public awareness. Reham El-Adawi finds out how the dynamic duo are faring.

It was 2.00pm, and I was hurrying to the hotel where Scott and Pratiksha Chesney had been staying for a week. I was warmly welcomed by Pratiksha, a physical therapist, and Scott, whose cheerfulness comforted me -- so much so, that it was easy to forget the wheelchair he has been confined to for 14 years. They look like they have a warm relationship; most importantly, they seem to have a good time together.

The Chesneys, founders of Devotion to Motion, a New Jersey-based organisation, are currently on a global journey. Their mission: to collect data in complementary medicine, promote travel for the handicapped and increase global awareness of cultural and physical difference. The Devotion to Motion tour, which will span 26 countries in 12 months, began on 1 July in London and will end on 30 August 2000 in Sydney. The couple are passing through Europe, the Middle East, Asia, Africa and New Zealand.

The Chesneys, who have visited 10 countries so far, thoroughly enjoyed Pratiksha's native India and were "overwhelmed" by Egyptian hospitality. In Tibet, they had a private audience with the Dalai Lama, who told them how much he appreciated their work. "I felt very close to him," said Scott, who was paralysed from a rare stroke in the spinal chord. "He was so friendly." Throughout the entire encounter, the Dalai Lama held Scott's hand, leaving the American in tears.

Pratiksha and Scott were also very touched by the warm and friendly welcome they were accorded by the Egyptians. From the moment they arrived at the airport, everyone, from officials to people on the street, seemed eager to help push Scott's wheelchair. "I was surprised when five guys came up to help out," Scott said. Pratiksha asked whether the disabled in Egypt are treated with the same consideration accorded her husband.

The couple loved the Pyramids so much that Scott, whom Pratiksha describes as her inspiration and "a great teacher and husband", couldn't resist riding a camel. "I don't know if I am the first paralysed person to ride a camel," he laughed. "It was a bit difficult, but this emphasised my realisation that fulfilling one's desires independently and freely can transcend the boundaries of paralysis." As for Pratiksha, she adored the Nile cruises.

"Before coming to Egypt, people warned us about pickpockets and terrorists. But we didn't experience any of this. The people here are affectionate and warm," Scott added.

Pratiksha said the tour was designed to show the change that can result "from a willingness to embrace new experiences and new possibilities in a positive manner". The young couple's ultimate objectives are to explore treatments and therapies that complement conventional medicine and have been proven to improve the quality of life. "Since I was 15, being paralysed has enabled me to grow and learn life's lessons at an accelerated pace," Scott explained. "Our tour is a mission to help others discover their true potential. Our initial research focuses on 'emotional paralysis', an issue we believe affects us all."

The Chesneys are also researching international travel accessibility for the disabled while encouraging those with physical and mental challenges to overcome their limitations. They advocate educating the world and extol the unlimited opportunities open to the handicapped through the media, the Internet, research work, open forums, speaking engagements and books. Uniting children worldwide through Internet resources and pen pals focusing on cultural similarities and differences are additional goals.

Devotion to Motion continues to spread public awareness through tours, speaking events and a web site (www.d2motion.com). The Chesney team looks forward to speaking about their experiences in the hope that these will make a difference to others.

"My disability helped me become the person I am," Scott said. "I see it as a gift that helped me to be independent and to learn more about myself." Physical therapy and medicine just could allow Scott to walk again one day. "Even if that happens, though, I am not going to change the past 14 years. As the saying goes: Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional."

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