Crossing countries: challenging boundaries, changing lives

SDHI has reported earlier on Crossing Countries, an inspiring social enterprise based in Edinburgh. This year Crossing Countries has completed another successful trip to South Africa. This blog post contains a guest blog entry by Jean Cathro, founder and director of Crossing Country as well as an interview with Jean and Laura Dendy, who joined Crossing Countries from the University of Dundee on their journey this year. Finally, find additional links to videos and publications as well as photographs of the trip.

By Jean Cathro

Working as a note taker for disabled students at the University of Edinburgh I am exposed to a myriad of theorists from different disciplines. A random/limited choice could include: Michel Foucault’s theories on the power of institutions to construct and categories people, Judith Butler’s destabilisation of gender identities through performativity and Homi Bhabha’s ideas of a hybrid space in between culturally designated identities. Mix these up with Mike Oliver’s work on the rights of disabled people, Colin Cameron’s Affirmative Model of Disability and the disparate research on the benefits of volunteering and travel to health and social wellbeing. Then add my own increased sense of self-worth and empowerment from the experiences I had in Durban, South Africa and you have the foundations of our social enterprise, Crossing Countries.11844990_10206063784727184_16240825781685073_o

Recent UK government statistics also support the social change we want to facilitate. 16% of working age adults in the UK are disabled and third of them have difficulty accessing services. They are less likely to be employed and less likely to volunteer. Scope found that a fifth of young British adults avoid talking to disabled people and a quarter of disabled people feel less is expected of them. Although much has been done since the 2010 Equality Act there is still more to do to provide equal opportunities for disabled people. Society tends to focus on practical access issues and although this is a barrier it is not the only one: attitudes towards disabled people and their own expectations also create barriers. We want to change this.

Crossing Countries provides a unique, individualised opportunity for disabled and non-disabled people to volunteer abroad together.11223988_10206064458344024_8529344037367292529_o

Last year, a team of six people, including two wheelchair users and a blind person, travelled to Durban and volunteered in township crèches, with abused children, on maternity wards with new Mums and gave presentations in schools to disabled learners and to the students at a township high school. On a trip to the Phoenix settlement, where Ghandi developed his philosophy of civil resistance, we were interviewed with Ghandi’s granddaughter, who said she was honoured to learn of such a worthwhile project. We also made the newspapers, when Agata, who is blind, went surfing and Jude, who thought she would never be able to be on a beach again, swam in the Indian Ocean.

76l_29_07_15This year’s team faced a different set of challenges as our Traveller did not look disabled which sparked many conversations about hidden disabilities. We facilitated the creation of an outdoor art instillation/ learning space using recycled objects at a rural school and held workshops in art, drama and study skills in township and special needs schools. We played with the kids in a township crèche and visited a school for children with learning disabilities and their affiliated residential welfare centre…these will be two placements for next year.

11864991_10206063749166295_1971411807801572385_oOur tag line ‘Challenging Boundaries, Changing lives’ epitomises our undertaking. We seek to raise awareness of everyone’s value to society and to empower people to be more than they thought they could be. Like Butler, we seek to destabilise constructed identities and categorises, we seek to challenge social perceptions and labels and to show that everyone is equal; that everyone faces challenges, that everyone has the ability to support each other. Philani, a young Zulu man’s quote epitomises our purpose…

‘I may look like I am a normal person, but mentally I believe I was disable. I had a stereotype… I believed there were things which were just made for white people. That was my barrier …But Suzi, Laura and Jean took me in to an adventure. I challenged my boundaries and I am so grateful about that.’ (Philani 2015)

11884731_10206063780727084_6397912334156897974_oIf you know anyone who would like to be part of this enterprise as a Traveller, Travel Pal, funder or an advisor please get in touch.

Email: cctravellers.edinburgh

And check us out on the Web at…



Aiden, H. & MacCarthy, A. (2104) Current Attitudes towards Disability. Scope

Department of Works and Pensions: Office for Disability Issues (2014) Disability Facts and Figures. retrieved on 07/10/2015

Grimm, R., Spring, K. & Dietz, N. (2007), The Health Benefits of Volunteering: A review of Recent Research. Office of Research and Policy Development, Corporation of National and Community Service

Interview with Laura Denby and Jean Cathro

In the audio interview, Laura and Jean discuss their experiences and impressions with their most recent trip to South Africa.thumb_IMG_2236_1024

YouTube Video of the Crossing Countries Durban Trip 2015 

Other related content: Video of Crossing Countries Fashion Show: Scottish/African fashion fusion to be shown on 30th October 2015 for fashion show for and by disabled students at the University of KwaZulu Natal, Durban.

Disability Horizons Article Challenging Boundaries Changing Lives:
Publication in Cosmopolita Scotland’s special issue on disability at the end of October 2015

Two well attended SDHI events providing foundation for future activities in the area of health and human rights and social dimensions of addiction

Last week saw two well attended SDHI event. On the 6th October we hosted a Symposium on Health, human rights and development, which saw more than 40 people attending, including academics representing a variety of disciplines, fore mostly social and health sciences from Dundee, St Andrews and Edinburgh and health professionals. At the moment we are in the process of summarising the information from that day and will post updates shortly. There was clearly an ‘appetite’ to continue the conversation on the topic of health and human rights, and SDHI will organise follow-on activities in this area shortly. In a next step we will engage with NGOs and form further discussion groups. Questions addressed in the symposium revolved around how the university can become more engaged with human rights concerns in its curricula, outreach and research activities as well as in its internal operations.

Coffee beak3

For the second event, we ‘experimented’ with a new format. Nine academics, health professionals, and representatives for non-governmental organisations engaged in an intensive breakfast roundtable discussion lasting 2.5 hours on the social dimensions of addiction. The discussion included the president of the International Society of Addiction Medicine (ISAM), Dr Gregory Bunt, New York University (NYU) School of Medicine. The discussion was added to a very successful four day ISAM conference in Dundee, that had been chaired by Dr Alex Baldacchino who will shortly take up a Chair in Addiction Medicine and Psychiatry at the University of St Andrews and join the SDHI Management Team as a new Associate Director. The discussion revealed new frontiers of addiction, examined the complexity of multiple factors of social marginalisation and explored opportunities for translational research. A briefing report will be available shortly. Clearly, SDHI will be continue to explore applied interdisciplinary research avenues between social science, mental health and addiction medicine.

Breakfast roundtable

Dundee Student Association (DUSA) and Shared Knowledge Hub are hosting regular ‘Cultural Fridays’ to tackle social isolation and marginalisation

The Shared Knowledge Hub, led by Dr Fernando Fernandes and the Dundee University Students Association (DUSA) and the West Church, are organising a cultural activity, every Friday, starting on 16th October 1:30 – 4:00pm. This will involve a range of activities such as cine-club, board games, international food, music and so on.

The CULTURAL FRIDAY (still a provisory name) aims to address the demand for cultural and creative activities. We believe this can, indirectly, contribute with existing efforts to impact positively on social isolation and mental health issues.

This will be a space to students exercise solidarity and raise awareness of critical issues in society. A space for social and knowledge interaction and mutual learning. In line with the University’s focus on transformation it will connect the university community with Dundee citizens. The Shared Knowledge Hub embraces DUSA campaign to raise awareness among students about social issues and welcomes this partnership approach.

PhD Studentships: exploring research-informed service change in the Scottish NHS

Funded PhD opportunities are available, hosted jointly by The Scottish Improvement Science Collaborating Centre (SISCC), the Research Unit for Research Utilisation (RURU), and The Social Dimensions of Health Institute (SDHI) at the Universities of Dundee & St Andrews. These studentships (fees plus stipend at Research Council rates) are to explore aspects of research-informed change in the Scottish NHS. More details can be found here or through links at and