Cyclists brave lions, flies and crocodiles in aid of street children

A WOOLER man and five friends cycling from London to Cape Town have ridden through the very heart of Africa.

Craig Pollard, founder of CycleAfrica, has been a fundraiser for over eight years, and has raised over £15 million thus far for African and British charites. He and his team are undertaking this journey in order to raise money for and awareness of Africa’s many street children.

Their African adventure has taken them past the Victoria Falls and the site where Stanley famously asked “Dr Livingstone, I presume?”

They have met with some great welcomes on their travels, as well as some slightly worrying advice.

As the group rolled through Tanzania, they were joined by a cyclist from the Congo, who warned them about sleeping in the bush.

“This old man told us to be careful about sleeping in the woods because he had slept there last night and had spent the night running away from two lions.

“We were speechless and terrified!”

But worse than lions were the tsetse flies. Craig described the cycle through the Katavi National Park as “one of the most miserable of my life.

“We cycled as fast as we could but the flies were biting us everywhere and they really, really hurt, regularly drawing tiny drops of blood. Imagine being poked with a hypodermic needle every few seconds at random points all over your body. They were even in the corners of my eyes, biting.”

The team’s arrival in Zambia was a little more comfortable, with good tarmac roads, and hotels where they could load up with a full english breakfast. This helped the six cyclists clock up roughly 100 miles a day through Zambia.

In the capital city of Lusaka, the team saw first-hand the work that their partner charity Street Child Africa was doing with some of the most underprivileged and vulnerable children in the world.

Craig continued: “We had the pleasure of seeing a few of their smaller school-based projects before we visited ‘Visions of Hope’, a project for girls in the heart of Lusaka.

“After visiting so many boy-focused projects it was refreshing to meet the girls who lived on the streets and to hear the very different challenges that they face.

“Running the everyday gauntlet past the bus stops where the pressure to have sex is particularly difficult to resist when your self esteem is not what it should be.

“It was amazing to see the work that is being done with these girls and young women, some of whom are facing all this whilst trying to bring up young babies as best they can, without role models or any other support.”

The wildlife was still eye-catchingm, though. The weary cyclists leapt at the chance to stay in a hotel which had baby crocodiles in the courtyard pond.

“We’ve noticed that there is no such thing as normality on this trip and are used to the daily bizarre events that have become commonplace,” said Craig.

“Therefore, we weren’t surprised by the Deputy Mayor of Lusaka’s kind offer of a traditional African massage at her home or by the fact it was the taciturn French Ambassador who gave us a lift to the hotel, driving at more than 100kph through the sleepy city centre. It was terrifying in so many ways.”

Craig said that the group had evolved their riding style to suit the unique demands of such a trek.

“In the early days no one would even go to the toilet or have a quick snack without the whole group stopping whereas now we tend to cycle in pairs often not seeing each other until the end of the day.

“We have also begun to explore our own routes, sometimes cycling several days apart but coming together in the big cities for a catch up and events.”

The team are roughly 8,000km through their journey now, and expect to arrive in Cape Town later this month.

There are dozens of small local street children projects dotted along the Cycle Africa route that are saving children from the streets and setting them up in better lives – giving them another chance. These projects are operating on a shoestring, working with volunteers to keep their costs low and doing an incredible job with few resources. Many are run by former street children who know why the kids are on the street, what it is like and how they can help.

More than 10 million children live and sleep on Africa’s streets. Without food, family and shelter they face hunger, violence, abduction, rape and most die young.

For more information on Cycle Africa, including details on how you can donate, visit the website www.cycleafrica.org