When asked his dream, 60-year-old Michael Osbourne said the words “Africa”, “tribe” and “animals”, leaving his support workers in no doubt that a safari would be the way to fulfil it.
For someone who didn’t have a passport, let alone any experience of travelling abroad, his choice was ambitious. Support worker Bob Hanna says: “He was clear about going to Africa and knew that elephants, tigers and giraffes live there and not in zoos. He wanted the experience of seeing animals in the wild and he often talked about meeting an African tribe.”
Osbourne, who has moderate learning disabilities, lives semi-independently at Tacolneston House in Norfolk, run by Dimensions, with another man and woman with learning disabilities. He has lived there for five years, and before that was in Little Plumstead long-stay hospital on and off for 37 years.
So when his dream was chosen, work began on preparing him for a trip that would transport him to a different world from the one he was used to.
Hanna and another support worker, Amy Morton, were chosen to go with him. As Osbourne had never flown before, he needed to be introduced to the concept, an induction that included visits to a couple of aviation museums where he could look at and sit in planes. The next stage was to take Osbourne on his first flight – a return trip from Norfolk to Exeter – which he loved, remaining relaxed during the take-off and landing.
The big day arrived last month. Osbourne was “fantastic” on the journey, says Hanna, who was initially worried that his short attention span would prove a problem on such a long flight. But he put on his headphones, listened to music and took the flight in his stride.
In the Kruger Park
Osbourne’s dream came true courtesy of Epic Enabled, which provides holidays for disabled people in Africa. Owner Alfie Smith met them in Johannesburg, where they joined the rest of the group going on safari to the Kruger Park. The group included three other men who were physically disabled with their wives. By the end of the trip they had all got to know each other well.
“We stayed at three different places,” Hanna says. “We spent about three nights in the first one where we made a camp at night. At the next we stayed in tents on wooden platforms. At the side there was a dry riverbed, and across from that was a huge tree where a big group of baboons congregated. We were told to keep the tents closed otherwise they could come in and trash the inside.
“We ended in the posher part, which had shops and a pool. Every day we got up early and went off for a game drive for about two hours, then came back, ate and went and did something else. For example, one day we went to a cheetah rehabilitation centre. There was an area known as the vultures’ restaurant, where they throw in the bones of animals eaten by the cheetahs and you drive past and watch the vultures.
“One farmer had adopted a baby hippo, and there was a platform at the riverside where you could feed it sweetcorn cobs. Michael became animated when he saw it his face lit up because he was face-to-face, touching a real hippo.”
Most days were packed with activities and they saw leopards, wildebeest, crocodiles, hippos, lions, cheetahs, rhinos, giraffes, zebras and birdlife, including eagles and vultures.
It is too dangerous for anyone to leave the vehicle during a game drive – something that became apparent when an elephant charged towards the group, flapping its ears and trumpeting.
“Michael asked whether the animals were dangerous and I said ‘yes’,” says Hanna.
But this didn’t stop Osbourne’s enjoyment. “We couldn’t have got any closer to the animals than we did. One day three lions were lying in the middle of the road and they wouldn’t get up which made a huge traffic jam, but people were just taking photos.”
They also fulfilled the last part of Osbourne’s dream, which was to see an African tribe.
According to Hanna, the trip has made a big impression on Osbourne. “On the way home in the car he was full of it, just talking about the trip. He was over the moon and has been telling everybody about it.
“As a life-enhancing experience, it’s been amazing for him. The signs are that it’s had a fantastic effect.”
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This article appeared in the 28 February issue under the headline “Safari, so good”