Bronwyn Leeks and her husband, Andrew, have three kids, Cooper, 8, Pepper, 4, and Elwood, 1. Cooper has Athetoid Quadriplegia Cerebral Palsy and requires support with most tasks from walking to communicating. He also uses both manual and power wheelchairs as well as a walking frame to get around. But despite these hurdles, the family has been traveling since Cooper was 6 months old. Amazingly in 2010 Cooper initiated a 1 kilometre walk and raised AU$15,000 that he then delivered to New Hope Cambodia in Siem Reap. Bronwyn tells suitcases&strollers their story of travelling to Cambodia with kids.
Does Cooper like to travel?
Cooper travels beautifully. He loves adventure and travel and discovering new cultures. Having to take the mobility issues into planning our trip takes a bit more time but we have the attitude that Cooper will access anything and everything he wants to, so we make it happen.
What are some of the difficulties of travelling with a child with disabilities?
Cooper uses a manual wheelchair when traveling as we cannot take his walker to most places we like to go. Plus it exhausts him too easily. Our biggest hurdle is trying to access travel insurance with a pre-existing condition but we have finally found a company that covers Cooper at this stage. (We are lucky he has no additional health issues.) We also look at access in accommodation and need to be prepared to carry Cooper every now and then for him to access what we do. Lucky he is still light at 18 kilograms.
[For more travel tips on flying with wheelchairs and disabilities, see the suitcases&strollers story here.]
Is it difficult to travel through a developing country with a child with disabilities?
Access is difficult but there is always someone willing to help. The only difficult thing is the fact that disability is rather hidden in Southeast Asia, so we attracted a lot of attention. We also receive much praise for including Cooper in all that we do.
[For more information on travelling to developing countries with kids, see the suitcases&strollers story here.]
You also have 2 other able-bodied children - how do you cater to everyone's needs and interests?
Like everyday life we have to balance things out all the time. We take everyone’s needs and wants into consideration and work it out as we go. Often when travelling we have to split up so Andrew and Cooper will go and explore and I will have the younger two doing something different. We join up together for lunch then take it in turns to explore by ourselves in the afternoon while one of us stays with the kids.
Where are some of the places you have travelled as a family?
Singapore, Indonesia and Queensland, Australia.
How did the idea for Cooper’s walk for New Hope Cambodia come about?
We had booked a holiday to Cambodia and Cooper decided on his own that he wanted to raise some money to buy a community some rice and school supplies. He could not believe that some kids could not go to school. He thought he could do a fundraiser and get people to sponsor him. (He already knew all about fundrasiers as we had done a few to purchase equipment that he needed that was financially out of our reach.)
morning of his walk the kindergarten classed called him on the phone to wish
him luck. When we arrived in Siem Reap 70 students greeted us at the airport
all welcoming Cooper and thanking him. It was an amazing moment we will never
forget. Cooper loved visiting the school. The new building has been built and
is in full operation now. We plan to visit this April.
How did New Hope Cambodia respond?
For more information on house building trips and other fundraising in Cambodia that you can do with kids, read the suitcases&strollers story here.
For more information on how you can teach your kids about poverty through travel, read our interview with a suitcases&strollers mum here.
Why is it important for your family to travel?
We all love to travel. We like the thrill of exploring new places. We love the warmth of the climate and the people. We get to try new foods, experience new cultures and make new friends. We love exposing all our kids to difference and for them to learn to communicate with different people and to try new things. It helps them be flexible and resilient stepping outside of routine.
For more on how to travel to Siem Reap with kids, see the suitcases&strollers story here.
For tips for how to specifically travel with a child who has autism, read the suitcases&strollers story here