Seeing is believing

HE lost his sight completely to retinitis pigmentosa (a group of genetic disorders that lead to progressive visual loss) more than 20 years ago, but that hasn’t stopped Miles Hilton-Barber from living life to the fullest. And if this means climbing mountains, crossing deserts, and flying, so be it. 

He is currently undertaking a journey more than half way around the world, with a sighted co-pilot, in a microlight (ultralight aircraft).  

His Microlight Adventure was conceived with the aim of increasing public awareness about avoidable blindness across the globe, and aims to raise US1mil (RM3.5mil). This is part of Standard Chartered Bank’s charity, Seeing is Believing, that aims to help eradicate preventable blindness in developing countries around the world. The adventure will see him travelling across Europe, the Mediterranean, Pakistan, India, Malaysia, Indonesia and Australia, with the route following the classic London-Sydney 1919 Air Race 

His journey began March 7, to be completed in stages, and he will be accompanied by sighted co-pilots Brian Milton and Richard Meredith-Hardy.  

If that’s an achievement, consider what he has done before. In April 1999, the 58-year-old completed the toughest foot-race in the world – the Marathon des Sables, a 150 mile ultra-marathon race through the 120 degree heat of the Sahara Desert.  

In April 2000, Miles climbed to a height of 17,500 feet in the Himalayas. He then successfully conquered Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa at 19,340 feet. A few days later he took part in a military expedition climbing Mt. Blanc, Europe’s highest mountain.  

In November 2000 Miles then set a world record as the first blind person to man-haul a sledge over 400 kilometres across Antarctica. Frostbite prevented him from continuing his amazing bid to be the first blind person to reach the South Pole.  

In August 2001 he participated in an 11 day ultra-marathon event across China, including sections of the Gobi Desert, 12,000 feet high Tibetan mountain tracks and the Great Wall of China. On returning to the UK, he then climbed Ben Nevis (the UK’s highest mountain), and abseiled down several tower blocks for charity.  

In January 2002 he competed in the Siberian Ice Marathon, billed as “The Coldest Marathon on Earth”. A few weeks later, after qualifying as a scuba diver, he undertook 12 open water dives in the Red Sea off Hurghada, Egypt, exploring shipwrecks 80 feet down on coral reefs. He is now qualified as an advanced open water scuba diver.  

Six weeks later Miles, as part of a five-man team, set an astonishing new world record – crossing the entire Qatar Desert non-stop and unsupported. The 200 kilometre journey, pulling a third of a ton of water and supplies behind them, took them over 78 hours day and night, without sleep.  

In July 2003 he participated in the Commonwealth Games Queen’s Jubilee Baton Relay Race. Five weeks later Miles then set off on the massive “Around the World in Eighty Ways” project. This was a 93-day 38,000 mile circumnavigation of the entire world, accompanied by two disabled friends, using over 80 challenging forms of transport, promoting the untapped potential of people with disabilities.  

These included swimming 11 miles under the Red Sea, hot air ballooning over the Nevada Desert and setting the lap record for a blind driver at the Malaysian Grand Prix Circuit, racing a 200kph Lotus.  

His daytime job as a corporate motivational speaker sees him delivering the messages of “never give up”, “expect the unexpected” and “think big to achieve big” come wrapped in a package of humour and profound personal insight.  

Standard Chartered’s Seeing is Believing campaign was launched in 2003, and aims to raise US$10mil (RM35 mil) by World Sight Day 2010 to fund medical, community and education projects to make a difference to the lives of 10 million people across 20 countries. For every US dollar donated, the bank will match the donation up to US$5mil (RM17.5mil). 

The campaign is in partnership with the IAPB (The International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness) and with the support of the WHO.  

Over the next few years, it will continue to help people with cataracts as well as tackle other forms of preventable blindness including trachoma, river blindness and various forms of childhood blindness as well refractive errors. 

In Malaysia, Standard Chartered has been working with the Opthalmological Society of the Malaysian Medical Association to help address the issues pertinent to preventable blindness. 

At his brief stopover in Penang, Miles will be helping to raise awareness of the issues around preventable blindness. 



1. Seeing is Believing – 

2. Miles Hilton-Barber, the adventurer – 

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