It was a cold 4 degrees early Saturday morning in Albury. 

Myself, a Community Engagement Officer for NSW CID and the My Choice Matters (MCM) project along with Eban Pollard MCM Projects Officer decided to brave the walk, setting out while it was still dark.

We were about to witness the outcome of Jan Gouma’s “dream” project – people with disability joining a throng of passengers to ride big hot air balloons, to fly to Rutherglen some 50 kilometres away, something they probably never thought was a possibility.

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Jan Gouma hatched the hot air balloon project in conjunction with the IDEAS conference happening at the Albury Entertainment Centre the same weekend. But it was first born through Jan’s participation in MCM’s Become a Leader workshops when she undertook the Become a Leader course with us. Her story was peppered with little moments when she would nearly give up because of various challenges – the balloons not able to make it, sponsorship not coming through, people in high places who felt the project was too farfetched and even people like me who thought at first “the dream is just too big.”

But I was inspired by Jan, whose son Kurt uses a wheelchair, communicates non-verbally and has had complex disability issues throughout his life. That early morning, he was trying to keep warm inside their 4wd and Jan said he hasn’t been that well.

We saw the little balloon signal light in the dark released by the ballooners, trying to work out where the wind is heading. I was worried for one moment and reached out for my little first aid box, thinking, could it really happen or should I get this box ready?

Participants’ emotions were mixed, there was one who said she wanted to join the balloon ride to “find Grandma in heaven”, another who said “I just want to see what the moon looks like”, another jumping up and down in excitement.

Climbing into the big balloons was a challenge, as those who used wheelchairs had to be lifted carefully and seated comfortably inside. It took at least an hour or more.

Then the moment came, the four big hot air balloons took off – one carrying the passengers with disability. Kurt waved at us, Jan hopped in at the last minute and we clapped. I said something like, “My sister could’ve been in that balloon” – my sister has an intellectual disability, too.

Then Jan’s words echoed in my head, “I thought of the hot air balloon project because I wanted the symbolism for us dealing with people with disability. As the NDIS takes off in Australia, amid all the challenges - we are also taking off with our dreams as people with disability.”

And that is the power of dreams.

Annamarie Reyes
Community Engagement
My Choice Matters/NSW CID.

My Choice Matters is a project of the NSW Council for Intellectual Disability. Find out more here: mychoicematters.org.au

ph. 1800 424 065       email: info@nswcid.org.au

Level 2, 418A Elizabeth St, Surry Hills NSW 2010

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