Monthly Archives: February 2015
An 8 minute read
After a week long ride from Istanbul, I rest in the ancient city of Thessaloniki, Greece. It is cool outside. A light drizzle in the sky. Water runs down cobblestone alleys all the way to the sea. A buzz of excitement in my head. A vibrant city with a grand history. I crossed the gateway from Asia to Europe via Istanbul. I leave the open road to do what it will. The next leg will continue to be challenging. It will test my perseverance as mountain climbs, chilling cold and empty roads shine the way. I have an intended route as I weave across Eastern Europe and then down into Africa via Sicily. But, if history has taught me anything, all planning will be nothing more than smoke and memories in a few days. Nothing is constant. The road is as static and unpredictable as our weather. An update from Europe will follow. I now reflect on my final days in India. To the open road and nameless questions ahead.
I flew to Istanbul from Delhi. It seemed like the most logical place given my original plans. Had I been able to continue my unbroken route around the world, I would have already been there by now. Problems with Iranian Visas and an impending Kazak winter, shot me down to India for a whirlwind loop tour spanning 3800km from Chennai to Delhi. Reflecting back on those days, I can safely say that they were my hardest and some of the most rewarding so far. The crushing hum of the traffic was relentless and the sights were like no other.
During my ride through India I experienced dreadfully dark days and extreme exhilaration. Some of these highs and lows were often in the same afternoon. I saw amazing architecture and landscapes. Temples, Mosques, beautiful beaches, mountains, marshes, forests and complex ancient cities. Beautiful flowers. Wildlife living in its purity and amongst humanity. From cows and monkeys to rare birds, elephants and camels. I ate like a king for next to nothing. Tasting a wide dichotomy of foods from South to North. The food changed with the road. Regional dishes are my favourite. Vegetarian dishes that would blow your mind. Experienced the best physical fitness of my life. I camped all over. Was welcomed into local homes and shared many meals. I slept on roofs and in backyards, at truck stops and in villages. I met too many kind people to count. We shared stories and laughs. I never really felt alone, because I never was. There is always something happening. I met up with my parents as they took a leap outside their comfort zone and paid an eye-opening visit. Experienced intense pride when seeing the site of the next school in Verdara. The energy that India emits is addictive. You never know what is around the next corner.
I also saw the struggles of an ever expanding India. True heart-wrenching poverty. Some days it was all I seemed to see. The real look of urban migration. Dusty villages with dying crops. Children begging in the streets for their parents or for themselves. The garbage cannot accurately be described. I dodged traffic all day sometimes. I got hit once by a man with an onion cart. Oncoming cars, trucks and bikes going the wrong way were relentless. Selfish passes that continually endangered my life and chased me off the road were the norm. Close calls that I really don’t even like to think back on. Horns of all kinds blaring at all times. Honking for honking sake. Never have I seen so much roadkill. A dog eating a cow sticks out especially. Getting food poisoning and feeling doomed in a dirty home clinic looking up at a dripping IV. Repetitive questioning and curiosity were both a blessing and a curse. I am stronger for it all.
It was more than a whirlwind. Each day I woke up ready for the challenge. I could never tell you were I would be at the end of each day. I quit guessing myself. Am I glad I came and tackled the Indian Sub-Continent? Absolutely. I learned a great deal about myself. My boundaries and my limits. How far I can push myself and when I need to stop. I took beautiful photos and experienced a world I really knew little about. I now truly appreciate an oasis of quiet. India even offered a few tranquil getaways along the way. I saw the Taj Mahal, ancient forts and intricate temples. They were all amazing. But, it was never about the sights. Cycle touring is not about the destination, but what lies in-between. Those sights are just placeholders on a map. The smiles and struggles along the way are what is important. That is what I will remember.
***Have a look at the work being done by Free the Children in our current fundraising community project of Verdara, India. The road to the second school. To see an overview of my experiences in the village CLICK HERE.
To help the community of Verdara CLICK HERE TO DONATE.
A 10 minute read
“The ‘Third World’ is a term I don’t like very much, because we’re all one world. I want people to know that the largest part of humanity is suffering.” ~ Audrey Hepburn, Actress & Humanitarian
The white SUV bounces along through the foggy rolling hills of the Rajasthani mountain scape. Talk of change, history and development dances inside the vehicle in the early morning drive. Women carry heavy loads of branches and containers of sloshing water. The road curves around dusty roads with men guiding buffalo drawn carts. The cool morning leaves a listless start to the day for some. Crouching on the ledge of compacted mud, people watch covered under blankets or sip chai at busy stalls. The goats are being taken to pasture, children rock their way to school on bikes and I sit wondering at the cyclical flow of it all. These are the remote ranges of central Rajasthan.
Upon arriving in Verdara I was escorted to a special celebration taking place at a school by my host Ambrish. A kind loving and knowledgeable man. Luck would have it that my arrival in the community was marked by the yearly celebration of Republic Day. I was worried a few days back that school would not be running during my visit; however, most events take place at the focal meeting building of the village, the school. Ambrish introduced me to Lloyd, who has been a long time and dedicated team member with Free the Children. He was very in tune with the inter-workings of village life as well as having firsthand experience across the projects that Free the Children are currently active in. We walked through the gates of the school into the courtyard where it seemed the whole surrounding community had gathered. The secondary school is a feeder for many smaller communities in the area. I greeted the headmaster with a ‘Namaste’ and took my seat at the head table as a guest of honour. There were many wonderful performances by the children in the community to celebrate their Republic Day. Showing off their skills to their peers and parents with beautiful dances. A good old fashion concert with beautiful outfits and blaring music. Afterwards, dancing. Flurries of hands and bodies move in a schoolyard frenzy of celebratory relief.
During my site tour of Verdara and the surrounding area, I gained a stronger understanding of the complexities that go into developing sustainable communities. The High School will be the location of the next school building. We have currently achieved over a quarter of our goal towards $10,000. One building has already been constructed, however, there is a huge need to replace the remaining structures. They are completely unsafe and devoid of what you would call a happy learning environment. There is little light, no ventilation, children sit on the cold floor and generally are without resources. The teachers struggle to complete lessons in these crumbling and leaky classrooms. Children come late to school after helping their parents with work at home, if they come at all. Understandably, parents are less inclined to send their children to school if the facilities simply aren’t there. Even as a teacher myself, I couldn’t begin to comprehend the struggles staff and students must face. This is dedication to education at its finest.
“If you are in the luckiest one per cent of humanity, you owe it to the rest of humanity to think about the other 99 per cent.” ~ Warren Buffett, Businessman & Philanthropist
Since Free the Children has come to the surrounding community of Verdara they have been educating people on many tiers. I believe this is one of the most valuable and priceless aspects of the organization. They are not simply giving handouts, but educating people how to develop sustainable agricultural practices, combat illnesses by boiling water and putting on healthcare education clinics. These are just a few initiatives taking place. By promoting the importance of education in the future of young learners, they are delivering more than hope. Providing an environment where parents feel comfortable to send their children has dramatically increased enrolment, but it is only a part of the battle. The new classrooms are beautiful, bright, safe and decorated in a way that is inviting for young learners. The one headmaster told me that once he opens the new classroom in the morning children enjoy poking their heads inside, wondering when it will be there turn to learn in there. If parents see that a quality system is in place in their child’s early education, then they are more likely to encourage their future studies.
In the schools which Free the Children does work, each student receives a full uniform and a bicycle. I think this is amazing. Prior to this most children had little or no personal possessions. The bicycle creates a sense of ownership and responsibility which they otherwise may have never experienced. They also learn a valuable skill, riding the bike. Rolling proudly to school in groups in their coloured uniforms, they tackle mountains of change that are larger than life. Representing a new generation of hope for their families and the quality of life they are able to bring. It was is a word, empowering. More children are going to school and staying there for longer, especially in terms of the number of girls continuing their education. This is fantastic to see. By educating a girl, they can later teach their whole family.
However, work such as this takes time in terms of convincing the local governments (Panchayats) and getting the community as a whole on board. There are currently many individuals working towards a better tomorrow here. You need dedicated individuals in the village to promote these initiatives for sustainable change to happen. From agriculture and healthcare to sanitation and alternative income programs. During my experiences speaking with the local members of the community I can see the impacts of the donations on a wider spectrum.
For instance, while I was there we visited a local farmer who was apart of the alternative income initiative. He was able to pick out two goats and his neighbours the same. These goats have given much more back to their families than can be explained. The new quality breed of goats are able to give back milk, reproduce and eventually be sold when they get older. For the first time in his life the farmer said he has some savings. This allows him to have a stronger sense of food security for his family. A bank account has also been opened as a central savings account for the women in the community. Amounts are deposited there and then discussed about by the women as a group. The project that seems so simple as giving a family goats has brought them so much closer together and given them an alternative form of income and eventual savings for a better, more secure future.
“Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant.” ~ Robert Louis Stevenson, Writer
In the midst of the ancient Aravalli Mountain range the community of Verdara is set. A tribal population of kind and caring people dot across the landscape. Their smiles stretch as long as the rolling hills they cultivate. Shaking the hands of headmasters, farmers and countless students has brought the community to life for me. It has made me feel that lasting connection I can never forget. We are all intertwined in this chaotic magic called the spinning rotation of our Earth. The image I had of Verdara is now much more than a simple name. It has been brought to life by the colours in the clothes, smells in the country air and connection we all share to this brilliant world.
At the end of the day I was reeling on overload from all of the possibilities that are available. The surrounding community has begun to not only survive, but thrive. There is so much to be done for the eager and openminded people of this small slice of India. I was proud to be apart of such an amazing initiative. You can see it in the eyes of the people as you greet them and they return the favour. The kids smile and muse shyly as you experience their daily reality. It was a larger than life experience. After over 7 months since I began this bicycle journey around the world, it remains as one of my most memorable experiences. I will never forget that day. A new motivation and energy has been sparked. I hope to return and see the fruits of our labours. To see the new beautiful blue school standing at the centre of Verdara. To lend a hand as the bells clang, calling kids to class in a place that is inviting to learn. I will watch in pride, in awe and wonder as another child passes doors of dreams.
On behalf of the community of Verdara and myself, we would like to give a heartfelt thank you.
Be apart of the magic. Click HERE TO DONATE.
For more information on the Adopt-A-Village model in India click HERE.
See pictures of the day below then watch a quick video of DANCING IN VERDARA HERE.