Jean Pierre Camino De SantiagoEarlier this year, Jean Pierre Fenech  – a 24-year-old young man with Down Syndrome walked 120km from Saria to the medieval Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Spain. Accompanied by a group of other pilgrims, volunteers and a personal tutor, Jean Pierre not only finished the whole distance but was also an inspirational motivator for the whole group. “It was quite hard,” he explained on his return “sometimes my feet hurt a lot, but I kept pushing and challenging myself to keep going.”

Spanish for The Way of St. James, el Camino de Santiago dates back over 1,000 years.  The whole trek totals 800km and stretches from St. Jean Pied du Port in the Pyrenees Mountains in France, and goes through the wine region up to Galicia where the famous Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela is situated.

Last May, Inpsire – The foundation for inclusion – led a guided pilgrim covering 120km of the trek over a period of five days.  Jean Pierre, who attends Inspire to reach his full potential set off determined as ever, and faced the challenge head on.

Adolf Vella was one of the other pilgrims, who came back with an experience to write home about. “Never Walk Alone,” where his first words. “No I am not a Liverpool fan but this fits perfectly with my experience at El Camino de Santiago.  Joining the Inspire group was a last minute decision,” he explains with a smile, “I didn’t know anyone, I had not trained for this feat and, believe me I’m not an adventurous kind of guy, so it was triple the challenge for me. With determination I made it to Santiago and the whole experience turned out to be one of greatest and satisfying experiences of my life. For whatever reason you are doing the Camino, never walk alone,” says Adolf. “Use this time to share, because you never know from who you can learn something new and valuable. Buon Camino!”

10450591_10152144157777493_7434625545222948159_nAccompanied by Inspire’s tutor Elaine Fenech, Jean Paul was assisted through the whole adventure.  Although he faced some difficult times like the rest of the pilgrims, he turned out to be a great inspiration for all, and many a time a source of strength. “I really really really want to do it again,” he said when asked about his experience. “I had the time of my life and even when my feet started to hurt, I just had a lot of mental energy. Elaine and Ivan helped me a lot, and also the others, but I think it’s the praying that helped me the most. I like to pray. So I prayed, and prayed and prayed, and the courage came from within, so when my bunion started to flare up I found the strength to push through.”

Graziella Gatt who was also with the Inspire group on this adventure said that she found the experience enlightening. “I went back to my roots, during the walk,” she explained “it was a very spiritual experience and a generally great time too. I met lots of amazing people who had lots to offer. Jean Paul was determined from the start and he stayed true to his word till he accomplished the whole route. Very often he made us happy with his innocence; we sang along the way, we prayed, and we had lengthy conversations. All of these things bonded us further. Apart from strong perseverance, Jean showed love towards everyone irrespective of anything. He simply made us happy because of his positive vibe. Unknowingly Jean was a prime motivator and the main factor that turned my Camino into a very positive experience.”

“On a typical day we woke up at 7:00am, showered and had a quick breakfast,” explained Jean Paul.  “We hit the trek by 7:15am and started walking until lunch time. We walked, we talked, we prayed, we sang, and then we stopped to eat or buy a souvenir.”

“We’d walk about 20 to 25km a day, every time reaching a new destination, getting our Camino passport stamped and getting closer to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. In the evening we would check into one of the hostels along the route and rest in big dormitories with lots of other people. At first it was hard to sleep but after some time I got used to it. In the morning it used to be hard to wake up but once we went outside and started walking, the fun started all over again.”

Ivan with Jean at Camino De Santiago - inspire maltaIvan Farrugia was also one of the thirteen pilgrims that accompanied Jean Paul last May. “My experience was superb,” he said on his return. “I found a new family, great people whom I could laugh and argue with in a peaceful way. Our guide from Inspire was a great point of referral, very dedicated and always on top even when we were all very tired both psychologically and physically. This was truly one of the most beautiful episodes of my life with 12 other unforgettable pilgrims.”

 Between the 11th and 23rd September, INSPIRE will be leading another guided pilgrim covering the  same route between Saria and Monet de Gozo – Santiago de Compostela, a total of approximately 120km. While a high degree of fitness is not a must, participants will be required to walk approximately 21 kilometres a day, carrying a backpack.

An experienced tour leader will lead the group, advising members on how to be prepared as soon as they sign up for the challenge.

€700 pp includes : Flights, Accommodation, Transfers, all Taxes, Guides & a donation to Inspire.

Limited spaces available. If interested please contact Inspire’s Fundraising Team on 21890000 or events@inspire.org.mt