Rafting for People with Disabilities in Iran

“Believe us… We are ABLE to Enjoy Wet Adventure”

On Monday 29 June 2015, one of my lifetime dreams came true… “Rafting for People with Disabilities”…

PWD Group bannerFor a long time I have been thinking that people with disabilities are able to participate and enjoy adventure activities. A disability cannot stop them from enjoying nature and adventure tourism. They only need more attention and care.

In many countries such as Iran, most people with disabilities stay at home, wasting time, getting no movement, no excitement and being depressed. Many families don’t let their disabled members go out and have fun, because they believe they are “disabled people” and they are not able to participate in outdoor activities and hate to be seen in the public. But this is not true!

PWD big splashThey are not disabled people; they are just people with disabilities.

A few months ago I became familiar with the Baavar Association which has been established by a group of people with disabilities. “Baavar” means believe and their main goal is to “enjoy present time”. We had a few meetings about how to arrange a safe and interesting rafting trip for them. So the date was set as Monday 29 June 2015 and we decided to do it on the Sefidroud which is a big river with safe Class 2 rapids located in the Gilan Province of Iran. Sefidroud was the only possible option for such a purpose according to our knowledge and experience.

PWD in raftSo we thought about every single detail of the program and specially focused on safety and how to do the plan with very special care. It seemed to be a very big responsibility for us.

We had a few serious problems to solve:

  • To get permission: We needed to get permission not only from the Tourism Organization but also from all other related organizations. In such cases all of them are conservative and avoid the responsibility.
  • PWD rafting 3River level: The dam stops the water frequently to preserve it. On lots of days the river is dry and they release the water according to weather condition. So nobody knows about it except the dams management who rarely cooperates in such cases. We were hoping to be lucky to have enough water for Monday ….. by chance . Of course we had plan B, C and D; to take them on the river with a low level, or to go to the natural water channels of Anazli, or the Caspian Lake or… There were plenty of alternative possibilities, but our plan A was Sefidrood with a high level of water. We needed whitewater, not blue or green water!
  • Strong winds in the area: This area (Manjl) is well-known for its strong winds opposite to the river current which normally blows in the afternoon, so we had to do the program in the morning and finish before 1pm.

PWD rafting 2We started communicating with the relevant organizations, collecting volunteers from the Iran Rafting Association members and getting prepared for this special plan. Meanwhile we had many calls from the Baavar group asking questions about the plan that showed us there was a high interest from them.

One day before – on the Sunday all Iran Rafting Association members were in the area to check the river and do all arrangements for the Action Day. I knew the river very well, but for this group we needed a flat start and finish point according to their conditions; many of them were on wheelchairs. We scouted all possible put in and take out points, especially emergency ones.

PWD GroupThen, I printed out a banner with my slogan “Believe us… We are ABLE to Enjoy Wet Adventure” and then met them in their accommodation place. They were staying in Saeed Zarori house who is an adventurous person with disabilities who accepted to take care of this group of about 24 people (13 with serious disabilities).

PWD preparationThe group was surprisingly eager to meet us and receive the equipment. We distributed life jackets and helmets to be adjusted and then had a delicious dinner together. I told them to be on the river the next day at 8:30.

They were really eager for the next day…

I was thinking that due to their condition we should expect them at the river around 10…

 The Action Day

We (Iran Rafting Team) were on the river at 8:30, and saw they are all equipped and ready at the river by 8:00!!! I was surprised!!! How did they do it?!!!

PWD safety talkSo from the very beginning I realized that these people are reliable and strong. After taking some pictures, I started the safety talk as trip leader. I did it in two ways, for those who cannot paddle and just should sit and enjoy the whitewater, and those who can paddle partially or completely. It was a great experience!

In each raft two persons with the more severe disabilities sat in the middle and a family member or a friend held them. We had a raft guide and 4 Iran Rafting team members who were responsible for paddling and holding them.

PWD rafting 4At the beginning all the Iran Rafting crew were worried… But then safety kayakers started to splash water on them, and it was a great start! After a few seconds we were all wet! They were really naughty, happy and strong people!

We were on the river for three hours. The beginning part was a flat section giving them the chance to warm up and become familiar with the river and rafting. Then we went through some safe and easy rapids.

PWD rafting 1It was time for a rest. The team stopped in a beautiful river bank, where they could play some games, enjoy the water and have some snacks.

We continued and went through some big waves and exciting rapids. They looked professional in the waves! We were a team now. I will never forget how they enjoyed the white water and how they screamed from the bottom of their hearts.

Soon we arrived at the finishing point! The last rapid was a great class 3, the biggest and the most exciting one just before the finishing point.

After the program we got some pictures and got ready to go home…

Yes, we travelled from Manjil town to Rudbar town about 8 kilometers on the river with “the special people with special abilities”.

PWD jump for joyIt was a unique opportunity for Iran Rafting Association and Iran Rafting Team members. We learned a lot from these people.

To all professional rafters: Make whitewater adventures easy, safe and accessible for people with special needs.

Believe us… These people are “ABLE to Enjoy Wet Adventure”.

Paddle Safe…

Kianoosh Mehrabi

Iran Rafting Association