Brave trip for autism

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•Tackling Africa from London to East London

AN ADVENTUROUS mother and daughter team have taken nine months to travel from London to East London on a motorbike with a sidecar, to raise awareness for autism.

Self-employed spiritual coach and author Melanie Cowpland and her daughter Sofia, 11, who was diagnosed with autism at age four, decided to take the trip through Africa to help overcome fears and assist autism organisations in Africa.

MIGHTY ADVENTURERS: The Russian Ural bike, which is the only bike that comes out the factory with a sidecar attached, has taken Melanie Cowpland and her 11-year-old daughter, Sofia, across Africa. Though it has been rather unreliable, it has brought them many friends and been photographed a number of times en route Picture: SUPPLIED
MIGHTY ADVENTURERS: The Russian Ural bike, which is the only bike that comes out the factory with a sidecar attached, has taken Melanie Cowpland and her 11-year-old daughter, Sofia, across Africa. Though it has been rather unreliable, it has brought them many friends and been photographed a number of times en route Picture: SUPPLIED

“Africa was chosen because I was born in Africa and lived here until I was 11 years old, so I knew it better than other parts of the world and that makes it safer to travel.

“But everyone does Cape Town as their finish point, so when I saw East London on the map, and looking for somewhere a bit different, I thought ‘great! – London to East London!’” Cowpland said.

Her campaign, “Africa with Autism” has attracted more than 2000 likes on Facebook, achieved press coverage in Egypt, Kenya, Zimbabwe and South Africa, and educated many passersby about the disorder.

Cowpland was aware that the trip would be very challenging for Sofia, but is thankful for the progress she has seen in her daughter over the last nine months.

“The highlight of the trip has been seeing Sofia grow in confidence socially, regardless of how difficult it is for her, and with her physical interaction with her environment, which is overwhelming for her at the best of times.

“I’m so proud of her for everything she has accomplished and her resilience to being on the road despite missing home, creature comforts and a lack of kids to play with,” she said.

Much of the trip has been self-funded, though Cowpland is thankful for the generous donations from individuals and discounts from small businesses en route.

She hopes to sell the story of her trip once she returns to England and raise further funds for autism organisations they have met throughout Africa.

One of the biggest challenges they have had to deal with has been mechanical issues with their Russian Ural bike, which has delayed them by three months.

Cowpland is grateful for many who have generously worked on her bike for free and helped them get back on the road safely. “The joys have been the amazing people we have met as a result of the bike [including all the breakdowns] and the smiles per mile it generated. It is probably the most photographed motorbike in history. I will miss the smiles the most,” Cowpland said.

WINNING TEAM: Melanie Cowpland and her daughter Sofia, are traveling from London, England, to East London on a motorbike and sidecar to raise awareness for autism. They are expected to arrive in East London on Sunday
WINNING TEAM: Melanie Cowpland and her daughter Sofia, are traveling from London, England, to East London on a motorbike and sidecar to raise awareness for autism. They are expected to arrive in East London on Sunday

Sofia’s highlight of the trip was catching her first fish and reeling it in on her own off the coast of Beira, Mozambique.

They expect to arrive in East London on Sunday, but will not stay here long. They hope to connect with local autism foundations and take a trip to the beach and relax.

Returning home will bring new challenges for the pair, as Sofia will begin high school in September and Melanie will be looking for a new place for them to live.

Follow ‘Africa with Autism’ on Facebook and visitwww.adventurewithautism.wordpress.com

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