Volunteer Sean Neilson recalls life changing trip

Last summer 26-year old Sean Neilson’s life changed forever.

Sean packed his bags and headed to Thailand – not for the sunshine and sightseeing that appeals to most – but to work with disabled children in memory of his little brother Ryan.

Sean with one of the children he cared for in Thailand

“I have decided to tell my story in memory of one of the most important people to ever come into my life – my little brother Ryan Neilson,” said Sean.

“Ryan was born with cerebral palsy in 1987 and could not walk, talk or even sit up on his own for the rest of his life.

Every day was a cherished moment and every day he taught me about how simple it is to smile.

Even in the hardest of times, when times get me low or I feel upset I think about Ryan – he was my inspiration, my motivation, my passion – but, most importantly, my brother.”

Sean joined the Cultural Canvas project in Chiang Mai to work with children with cerebral palsy, foetal alcohol syndrome or who were victims of human trafficking.

Ryan Neilson
Ryan Neilson inspired his brother to make a difference

Being in front of the camera was like “exposing” my soul, said Maryhill boy Sean, “I thought that was a bigger thing to strive for in Ryan’s memory than being scared of a camera. I found that strength and courage from him.”

Sean recalled how he was bullied at school, and that it was his brother Ryan who was there for him. “He was the only friend who made me feel like the most important person in the world. He was my best friend, and we had a special bond and connection which can never be forgotten.

For 12 years of my life I got the amazing opportunity to care for my younger brother every day.

I helped my mum with Ryan’s every need. Every day was a new challenge, but something I enjoyed doing – it made me feel like I was making a difference in his life by being there for him and caring for him.”

At the age of 14, Sean produced the first ever bereavement magazine for children who were in his position and then in May 2011, applied for the Magnus Magnusson scholarship at Glasgow Caledonian University.

Upon receiving the award Sean travelled more than 8,000 miles to Chinag Mai in Thailand to work with children who were in the same position as his brother.

He worked with many children suffering from cerebral palsy, ADHD, autism, Asperger’s, Down Syndrome and Foetal Alcohol Syndrome.

Sean also worked with young girls who had been sexually trafficked, and women as young as 12 who had been raped, given birth to babies and then been thrown out of their tribes.

Sean says the trip changed his life in so many ways. “It allowed me to believe in myself and believe that I could cherish Ryan’s memory by doing something good in the world.

Ryan was my life. He filled every inch of my life with laughter, love and inspiration.

He taught me that life is something to be cherished and something that I should never take for granted.”

Explore Stories will be screened on BBC2 Scotland at 19:00 (tonight) Wednesday 21st March