Until recently, most of my care was provided by a team of
volunteers, many of whom were recruited through the European
Most were in their late teens and early twenties. They wanted to
experience this country, its language and culture, and in return
were happy to act as personal assistants for disabled people. Many
had only a minimal grasp of English when they started and wanted to
improve their language skills as well as widen their experiences.
Among them, trainee nurses, therapists, doctors and social workers
on sabbaticals were well represented.
For years, this stream of motivated, bright young people enabled me
to live independently. But this wasn’t all: my family and I learned
about life in other cultures, different foods, different attitudes
towards disability, different attitudes towards family life. We
made a number of friendships which we hope will last a lifetime. My
nine-year-old daughter said: “The good thing about dad’s disability
is that we met all these great people!” Most volunteers left not
only with improved English and a fondness for this country (what
price that?) but also a greater understanding of disability.
Some European governments, discovering that their citizens were
providing personal care, decided that this was an abuse of the
project and refused to allow their volunteers to participate. This
contributed to the closure of the scheme in this area.
It is sad that it had to end. Everyone seemed to benefit: the local
authority paid less for my care (having only to pay for a
co-ordinator, the volunteers’ living expenses and pocket money),
the volunteers had a life-changing experience and learned to cook
Chinese food. I had a good supply of carers. My children and I have
an enriched view of the world.
I am happy with my present carers, but I do miss the volunteers.
I’m hoping this will remind everyone that policy decisions made
without consulting the people directly involved often leaves
someone, sometimes everyone, worse off, despite the best of