EMSP’s 2015 Annual Conference was held on May 15 and 16 in Warsaw, Poland and enjoyed an audience of 150 stakeholders representing key members and partners from the European MS community. The theme of the event was finding the best solutions for ‘Access to employment and participation’ and Founder of Oceans of Hope, medical doctor and psychotherapist, Mikkel Anthonisen, was one of the presenters.
Working as a doctor at the University Hospital in Copenhagen, Dr. Anthonisen has seen the ways in which MS can disconnect people from the outer world and from life by blunting the senses, inhibiting the ability of acting in the world and leaving people in a state of fear, because they never know what tomorrow will bring. As he explained, the idea behind the Oceans of Hope project, the first ever circumnavigation by a yacht crewed by people living with MS, is in its essence to create a community, which reconnects people to themselves, others and nature. Working together as a team to reach a common goal in an environment, which takes point of departure in the individual’s resources and capabilities, builds the basis for integrated empowerment, hope and meaning.
Dr. Anthonisen has taken part of the journey as a part-time Captain on the boat and he explained that the shared experiences of nature’s strength and wonders is something which creates a deep feeling of meaningfulness and which ties people together in strong and empowering bonds. As he said, “The realization that life is bigger than MS and that there are still amazing things to be accomplished brings back hope and the courage to dream” – something which he has witnessed in the more than 70 crewmembers with MS who have taken part in the different legs of the circumnavigation so far.
Oceans of Hope serves as a flagship sailing around the world to change the perception of MS by creating communities in which people feel worthy of belonging as the focus shifts from disability to ability. At the same time the journey creates networks between the sailing world and the world of MS and as Dr. Anthonisen emphasized, there’s a real need for sustainable and lasting offers for people with MS (and other disabilities) as a means to equal access to empowerment. In the wake of the circumnavigation, the organisation behind Oceans of Hope, the Sailing Sclerosis Foundation, aims to build sailing centres rooted in local communities, which integrate all aspects of health. As such the centres will support rehabilitation for employment and retainment of jobs just as they on a longer term will be offering palliative care. Dr. Anthonisen rounded the presentation off by saying that “the feeling of being worthy of belonging to a community should be life long and therefore these centres will offer meaningful activities around sailing on a permanent basis while at the same time meeting a wide variety of the users’ needs. No one should get in a position where they no longer belong to a community. These centres are for everyone no matter how their MS has progressed”.
Founded in 1989, EMSP is the umbrella organisation for 39 MS societies from 34 European countries. EMSP represents their interests at the European level and works to achieve its goals of high quality equitable treatment and improving the quality of life of more than 700.000 people with MS across Europe.