The following write up from Jon Twigge (one of the Cycle India 2010 cyclists) was featured on his blog Right To Be, but we thought it gave a good insight into our recent charity bike ride:
I recently took part in Cycle India 2010, a cycle ride through the Indian countryside in aid of HEAL, a small UK based charity that supports an Indian school and orphanage.
Cycle India 2010
The great news was that when we were done our group of thirty cyclists from the UK, US and India and our wonderful Indian support team had together raised over eighty thousand pounds for the charity.
Matthew Glover, Head of Fundraising, HEAL UK
My involvement began around eight months ago when a good friend and one of the organisers of the event, Matthew Glover, asked if I would be interested. I was. But, inactivity and a liking for the kind of food that adds large amounts of weight to the body over a number of years meant that interest alone might not be enough to get me through 190 miles of cycling over 4 days. After a few weeks of deliberation and some tentative, and very slow, outings on a bike I committed.
I want to share a few pictures that I hope tell a story of our adventures in India.
Cycle India Cyclists
This shot was set on a bridge in a very pleasant area. We had just flown down a particularly good downhill section and had stopped for refreshment. It was a great group of people and everyone really enjoyed themselves.
The HEAL School and Village
Jumping to the end of the story but I just had to show a few of the children at the HEAL village – helping to provide an education and in some cases somewhere to live as well is what the whole adventure was all about. In total there are around eight hundred children who attend the school which is composed of a mixture of orphans who live in the HEAL village, local children from very poor, poverty trap, families and children from better off families who pay for their education.
It was not possible to capture the scene of several hundred Indian children welcoming us as they lined the entrance road for what seemed like hundreds of yards – every single one of them pleased to see us, cheering and smiling but the above photo gives a small flavour.
Anusha meets Jem, her sponsor
It was particularly poignant to see Anusha meeting Jem. HEAL allows people to sponsor one of the children at the village. It really is a one to one sponsorship and, from a western perspective, a ridiculously small amount of at £12.50 per month to ensure a child’s complete welfare is taken care of including year round accommodation, education, food and clothes.
Anusha was waiting for Jem when we arrived, her first chance to see him, and she spent as much as possible of the rest of the day with him. Looking at the photo I think that sponsoring a HEAL child really offers a chance for a special kind of relationship.
HEAL Village Accommodation
I took a lot of photo’s in the HEAL village and school but I really want to highlight the contrast between the basic accommodation and the smiles on the children’s faces. Happiness really does not come from wealth alone. Having said that, the village is clean, functional and well decorated with bright colours and the children’s art work, a lot more than the children from the poverty trap families have to return home to.
Just a ten minute walk from the school is a quarry. Some of the poverty trap children’s parents work there. For a hard days physical labour of breaking up and carrying rocks they can earn as little as £1.50 a day – barely enough to feed themselves. Without HEAL the children of these families would be in the quarry working.
One thing that many Indians seem to pride themselves on is their appearance. Over and over again I saw obviously poor people wearing bright and well presented clothes. How they manage to appear so clean and tidy considering the conditions that many of them live in quite amazing.
When we arrived at the quarry this young girl was standing watching her mother carry rocks in a bowl on her head from where they had been smashed up to the small lorry. She clearly was not enjoying standing on her own in a dusty quarry. Fortunately for this young lady she lives close to the HEAL village and should soon be able to go to the school. The contrast between her face and the smiles in the village was stark. Many children from poor families in India will not be so fortunate.
The School Show
The School Puts on a Show
One of the highlights of our visit to the school was the just incredible show that we were presented with. Lots of lots of acts came on one after another including traditional Indian dance, rock and roll and even karate. The karate was completed with the instructor driving right over a number of his students with a motorbike no! Health and safety obviously takes a much more pragmatic view than it does here in England.
Rock and Roll from the younger children
It really was a privilege to see all of the children act and perform for us, some of them very clearly destined for Bollywood !
Cycle India was never going to be a flat out race. A very mixed bunch of people all with a desire to help the children contained a large mixture of cycling and fitness abilities. The majority of the cycling took place over four days with a warning that the first day might be quite hilly. I later learned that the Coorg region of India is renowned for its mountains and that one of the participants had been warned by a friend not to even attempt cycling in the area. Hmmm. This was the beginning of what turned out to be somewhat of a cultural difference between Indians and the members of the team from the UK and USA.
As it turned out the first days cycling turned out to be really hard work and seemed to go on forever. One of the highlights of the day was a stop at a beautiful holiday resort for lunch. We were met by a very professional young lady at the reception and we later discovered that the holiday chalets cost upwards of 12,000 rupees per night. One of a number of signs we saw of the vast difference between the better off and the poorest in India.
Children on the Way
A continual delight as we variously struggled along up hills and idled our way along the easier sections was a stream of local people coming out to greet us. The children were almost universally delighted to see us – waving and cheering and wanting to shake hands. Even the few children who were less enthusiastic i suspect were simply sufferering from shyness or shock at the sight of me in cycling shorts on a geared cycle (as I heard it described at one point).
Looking back at the picture above I can’t help but notice the, perhaps coincidental, change as the children get older going from the really cheeky chappy on the left to the almost regimental but very proud pose struck by his eldest companion. A sure sign I would have said of both natural child development combined with the remnants of the effects of a military British Empire running the country for many years.
In a strange way I would also have to say that there were so many signs of Britishness everywhere you looked, especially in the towns, that I immediately felt a sense of feeling at home even during the first coach ride after we landed in India. From the greenness of the countryside, to traffic lights, driving on the left and many signs written in English as well as Indian. Later on in our visit we stopped at a western shopping mall for an hour and in there you might as well have been in the UK or USA – there was hardly a sign of the Indian language anywhere you looked, everything was in English.
There obviously remains a great respect in India for Britain, at least from the people I met. I am not well travelled but I suspect that there are other commonwealth countries where that feeling towards Britain holds as well despite the more unpleasant aspects of the empire.
Along the way as well as the happiness and excitement of the children racing out to see us we definitely saw a lot of signs of poverty. Perhaps not the worst aspects of it that we might have seen had we had a chance, if that is the right word, to visit the poorer areas of a city but poverty none the less. It is hard to identify with such poverty so rather than say too much here are a collection of relevant photo’s:
An Indian Gentleman, dressed for the Indian winter (it was about 25 degrees !)
Digging New Drains, including the children
Living in Tents
Selling fruit at the side of a busy road.
A family outside their home
Children in the street
A Fancy jeep on a not so fancy road
… and the very drunk (see background
As I cycled around the Indian countryside I started to feel gradually more comfortable saying hello to everyone as we passed. Most of the time we cyclists were fairly well spread out so a lot of the time we were in small groups or even alone at times.
As I must have said already, the children were incredible. They all ran out to say hello especially those in the villages. I was told that it was quite possible that some of them had never seen white people in the flesh before. Most of the children were really keen to have their photographs taken and the grins of delight were beautiful when they saw their pictures on my camera afterwards.
But, one thing struck me. Some of the adults almost ignored us. It seemed rather odd until I realised that presumably the reason for this was that they were of low caste in the Indian hierarchy of class. They were clearly not expecting us to take any notice of them at all. However, with a new found sense of freedom to wave and shout Hi to anyone in sight i preceded to greet them anyway. In most cases there was a pause as they were not sure that I really was talking and waving to them. But when they did realise you should have seen the huge smiles that erupted on their faces. What a privilege to have shared such a simple moment with them.
Even amongst the Indians with us, based in all of the UK, USA and India itself, there was a clear pecking order of authority. Several times I observed a request being past down the chain of command until it reached the appropriate level.
And, more than once there were clear moments of tension as different ideas of who should be allowed to join our social activities played out in front of our eyes.
Hope Worn Thin
More than anything, I want to share a simple observation that I made as travelled through the countryside. Almost all of the local children had bright shiny eyes so full of playfulness and hope. Many of the adults did not. It was clear that a lifetime of poverty and struggle gradually wore down that hope and left many resigned to yet more years of a difficult struggle to survive.
A difficult life in a poor Indian village
And yet, stood just a few yards away in the same village, I spotted a young girl clearly not yet tired of life. If there is anything we can do to allow this hope to stay with these young people throughout their lives it will surely be worth doing.
Hope and beauty amongst the poverty
Not everyone in India is poor and they have a habit of painting their houses rather brightly
Traffic chaos Indian style
There were quite a lot of signs of progress in India including health and safety notices. The reality did not look quite so safe.
We visited an elephant training park. There were grumbles of animal cruelty at the sight of large chains and even a spike but they tend to be pretty thick skinned and it’s hard to tell if an elephant is happy
India was at times a curious mixture of poverty, wealth, hope, despair, animals and playfulness
Prasad, founder of HEAL, falls off his bike just yards from a lunch break but bravely carries on despite what turns out later to be quite a serious injury.
Perhaps it is just me but I think think this picture captures a simple pride and purpose in his work that I suspect some people here in Britain have forgotten
You can see more of my pictures from Cycle India at: http://picasaweb.google.com/jontwigge