Last year I was looking for a challenge for 2014, I found it in a small country in the middle of Africa. The more I read, the more the story of cycling in Rwanda unfolded. In Rwanda a bike is not only a tool that supports rural life, it enables people to earn a living and is literally a means of propelling young Rwandans away from a life working in the fields.
A bike is not just a utilitarian object though, Rwandans cyclists are riding to race. Despite the divisions of the country’s past, young Rwandans are coming together to train hard and are competing across Africa. Philip Gourevitch, writing in the New Yorker, summed up how powerful this is:
“[…] during the genocide, the riders were young boys. They had no agency in the crimes that defined their nation. All of them, Hutu and Tutsi, had been scarred, and they knew each other’s stories. They knew how they had been divided by identity in the past, and that those divisions still figure in Rwandan life, but they wanted to be known for something else. “Rwanda needs heroes,” a sports fan in Kigali, the capital, told me, and by doing something that every Rwandan could identify with—riding bicycles—these young men were fulfilling that need.”
This really struck a chord with me. While I live a relatively privileged life in a stable country where education, welfare and good health is kind of expected; cycling is central to my existence. My bike is is my transport across the chaotic and congested city that I live in, it enables me to make a living as the Cycling Hairdresser and it is my means of escape from the everyday.
“If a woman in Africa has a bike she has a future. She is less likely to marry before the age of 18, less likely to have children before 18 and more likely to stay in school.”
I came to realise that I could use my trip to help the women cyclists of Rwanda and I decided to raise money for Team Rwanda Cycling.
In Rwanda a little bit of money still goes a long way. £30 is enough to allow a cyclist to take a one month break from labouring in the fields, enabling them to train full-time. Furthermore, just like any cycling team, travel and equipment costs form a major part of their outgoings. Any money that I can raise will help support Team Rwanda Cycling with these costs. Between now and the start of my trip in August, I am looking for donations towards this cause. At the end of my trip I will also donate my high spec carbon-fibre racing bike to the team.
Apart from my personal desire to travel and to help the women cyclists of Rwanda, I hope that my trip can help to change how people in Britain see Rwanda. To quote Kimberly Coats again:
“When you say the word Rwanda, immediately, thoughts of a genocide which happened 20 years ago this April, come to mind. Team Rwanda is helping to write a new story, the full story. Someday when you say Rwanda, people will think cycling, and a team which altered “the story”. “
I want to contribute to this change in thinking.