The Team, 2014

CC team photo

Jean Cathro


I’m the founder of Crossing Countries. To say those six words makes my heart sing and my knees knock.

Crossing Countries combines my professional and personal aspirations and passions.  From restaurant manager to mum to mature university student to disabled students’ PA to social enterprise entrepreneur, what a journey! All the qualifications and volunteering I have done in the past culminate in this project.

A visit to Durban in 2008, the joy and resilience of the Zulu people and their philosophy of Ubuntu gave me the strength to change my life and start the process of changing others’.  To share this enabling experience with the inspirational students I work with, to live to one’s full potential and so support others as they fly too… NOTHING could be better.

After the trip…

More than ever I came home with an awareness of how we may all be different but we each have our own joys, sorrows, challenges, and each feeling is as wondrous, painful and scary to its holder. Some are written on our bodies and some are hidden deep in our minds and hearts. I believe, when we left Durban, the people we met no longer saw us as ‘the unusual group of disabled and non-disabled, black and white people,’ but as a group of friends who volunteered, who shared joyous and tough moments together and who created a legacy of memories that said… ‘Ignore what you expect…open your minds…choose experience’. I am proud we achieved this. For full version see Durban 2014 Uncut.

Judith Drake 

Apparently, I am the ‘professional at ‘getting-things done”JudeProfilePic in the team. Which I suppose is a bit true, if you need a list to be made, checked and done, I’m your person! I have just completed a degree in English Literature at the University of Edinburgh. I will be going on to do an MSc in Theatre and Performance Studies in September. I love literature and the theatre and hope someday to work in this field. I really enjoyed my degree but the one thing I would have loved to do was to either volunteer or study abroad. Due to my disability this was not possible. In conversations with Beth and Jean we realised that there were many other disabled students also missing out contributing their time and skills and we decided something must be done. Tadah, several hundred discussions, lists and (several not hundreds) bottles of wine later, we are off to Durban in South Africa for our pilot trip.

After the Trip…

This trip to Durban was amazing. It has forced me to push myself out of my comfort zone. At times it was overwhelming and made me quite ill but what I got in return outweighed the negative points. Nothing good in life comes easily. The people we met welcomed us with open arms. No one thought what we were trying to do was foolish or of little use. Their belief in us created a greater faith in ourselves, as individuals and as an organisation. For full version see Durban 2014 Uncut.

Beth Cochrane

BethProfilePicAnd I’m probably the one you’ll hear from the most. As the social media addict of the group, I’ve taken on the WordPress, as well as most other internet-based-thingies (technological terms, see?)

I met Jean and Jude back in 2012 while also studying English Literature at Edinburgh. Two years, one degree and a social enterprise later I can safely say these two are some of the most inspirational and wonderful people in the world. I’m joining Jude in the MSc at Edinburgh University this summer, but studying Creative Writing. Creative writing has always been a passion of mine, mainly because I like to write things. And think about fairy tales. That’s pretty much my life, minus the amazing project that is Crossing Countries.

(Disclaimer: I suppose I don’t just think about fairy tales. I’m also a fairly decent musician who loves travelling and helping people enjoy fine wines!)

After the Trip…

We did many things on our trip. Yes, we achieved our goal of giving disabled students overseas volunteering experience, and yes I learned a great deal about disability. This is something I wish to continue learning about, and helping to give opportunities to those students who may not have had such experiences before. But selfishly South Africa was, to me, about the children we volunteered with and how we managed, if just for a moment, to give them a chance to smile.

Agata Dzieciolowska

I am a passionate traveller, an adventure seeker and a loving peopleAgataProfilePic volunteer in several roles! Jean and I have known each other for over six years. We met at the University of Edinburgh as I was studying Psychology and Jean was my Personal Assistant. Although I graduated from MA (Hons) Psychology and MSc in Developmental Linguistics, we still keep in touch as during all these years at university we have become very good friends.

I teach Braille at RNIB Scotland and I hope to start a course in Teaching English as a Foreign Language in November this year. I have just got back from an International Conference on Independent Living and Multiple Discrimination of Disabled People in Europe. I am highly interested in Human Rights of People with Disabilities and I greatly hope that one day I will be able to work in this field. I hope that getting involved with Crossing Countries will widen my horizons, enable me to gain new experience and new adventures! I support Jean, Jude and Beth with all my heart!

After the trip…

Two weeks of pondering the heart of African lives, changed something in my own life…I loved all the children that we’ve met on the trip. I was surprised how easy going and open they were to us – strangers. What I truly loved in Africa was the realisation how much of a difference you can make with doing so little. I’ve seen with my own eyes and felt with my own heart, that there’s nothing more rewarding in life that a smile of a child who has a heart heavy with painful past… I hope, in South Africa, I made at least one person happier for a moment and taught them something useful, whether it be: how to make a kite or how to meet the challenge despite your disability. For full version see Durban 2014 Uncut.

Mark Cooper 

Crossing CoMarkProfilePicuntries combines two of the passions in my life; equality for disabled people and travel. I have cerebral palsy and am a strong advocate of disability rights. I spearheaded a campaign to improve disabled access information to pubs which changed the law in Scotland. I have travelled all over the world and see Crossing Countries as a vehicle to enable other disabled people to experience the joy of travel and develop new skills as I have done.

After the trip…

This morning we went to Operation Bobbi Bear. This charity works with and rescues children from sexual abuse. They do great work. Every Saturday- which is today, children go to the charity and play outside under a tree. When we arrived they were happy to see us. After a few minutes they came up to Judith and me to see our chairs. We made kites with them out of bin bags such a simple thing gave them so much pleasure. When they were playing with them they looked so happy it was hard to think that they were there because such horrendous things happened to them. For full version see Durban 2014

Lucky Peko

Lucky Peko Team PhotoI met Mah (Jean) in 2008 and was happy and nervous to be asked to be a Travel Pal. I work at a bakery and also volunteer for the Jabulani Project. Crossing Countries is a really exciting and new project for me

Thoughts on trip.. 

Going running every morning with Agata, who is blind, and also swimming with her in the sea and seeing the team going out of their comfort zone to do charity/community work made me feel so lucky to be a member of Crossing Countries. Challenging boundaries, changing lives, still more to come…’


Ntuthuko Bhengu

BambiThe seventh member of the team… The quiet but essential Bambi. Our reliable and trustworthy driver, who took time away from his taxi business to be at our beck and call. Our trip would have been infinitely more difficult without being able to rely on this man and his driving skills. (And also his sparkling Bambi eyes!)