Leeuwin adventure brings out courage and fire of students

31 Dec 2008

By The Record

Eight first-year UNDA Fremantle medicine students had a five-day voyage on the STS Leeuwin II in November as part of the social justice component of their studies, assisting 28 youth with physical or intellectual limitations. This student’s abridged report shows they were shaken and stirred by the experience.
“Along with seven other medical students, a number of practising physiotherapists and occupational therapists, volunteers  and permanent crew from the STS Leeuwin II and the trainees with special limitations, I took part in this five day voyage off Fremantle just a week after the completion of our first year exams.
“The opportunity to live and crew alongside these kids with limitations opened my eyes to both the burdens and joys that their families and carers live with every day.
“Their capacity for excitement, frustration, happiness, trepidation and achievement was more apparent than for others amongst the crew who were more reserved and perhaps self-conscious. I challenged myself to ensure I was equal to the tasks that lay before us – in seeking to accept and master all tasks sent my way. 
“I had done a small amount of sailing before and plenty of climbing, roping and work at heights so these tasks were not such a challenge – but still a joy to take part in. 
“For me the challenge was learning to relate to and work alongside all of my team-mates equally and to become comfortable with the patience required to help these extraordinary young people achieve for themselves what many able-bodied persons would not dream of attempting.
Resilience is cultivated by facing challenges, and a week on board the Leeuwin II is rife with them. From my cabin-mates’ smelly socks to the indignity of sea sickness, 5.30am wake-up calls to midnight watches the scene on board the Leeuwin is one of exhaustion coupled with disillusionment.
“On board the Leeuwin your community is the other 50 or so people struggling to steer an unfamiliar boat through unfamiliar waters, with about as much personal space as can be found in a small kitchen cupboard.
Salt water sprays over your face and clothes much more often than two-minute freshwater showers can, and if you managed to cram shampoo and conditioner into your luggage you are very lucky to have the time to apply it.
“Within an hour of waking you might be washing everyone’s dishes by hand or sweating the lines after turning the ship around.
“Lifting a 500kg mainsail after only six hours of broken sleep is not easy, nor is climbing the rigging so that you can lean out and tie up a sail while standing on a 1.5 cm thick rope.
“Time aboard the Leeuwin II takes away illusions of comfort and easy living, which sounds unappealing until you realise that in the middle of discomfort every crew member is forced to accept their own strength – their ability to rise up and meet challenges head on.
“Modern Australian culture is one of luxury – freely running showers and ten kinds of shower gel, hairdryers, washing machines, televisions, ipods, laptops… all working to provide us with distraction and to hide us from our physicality.
“Sweat, wind, sun and extreme physical effort are inconveniences relegated to the odd 45 minute session in a gym, hidden from the eyes of anyone not doing the same – or performed by trades people in uniforms who are being paid for their trouble.”
Maxine Garnsey
1st Year Medical Student