Riding For a Cause
This July, 35 people will bicycle 400 miles from the mountains to the sea to raise money for Tanzanian orphans.
The cyclists will start at the base of Mount Kilimanjaro, the tallest peak in Africa. They will follow a 400-mile-long route used by early explorers and 19th-century slave traders. The 10-day trip will pass through mountains and forests, ending in the port town of Pangani, Tanzania.
"It'll be a physical challenge and an unbelievable outdoor experience in Africa," says Macon Bianucci, 15, of Charleston, South Carolina.
A ninth-grader at Ashley Hall School, Macon will be cycling with her parents and her 17-year-old sister, Miller. The most important reason she's going, she tells JS, is that the trip will raise money for the Foundation for Tomorrow (TFFT). The nonprofit group helps provide schooling, homes, and medical care for orphans in Tanzania.
With a population of 44 million, Tanzania has more than 1 million orphans. Like most of southern Africa, the country has been hit hard by the AIDS epidemic. Almost 1 million Tanzanian children and teens have lost one or both parents to the disease.
American Meghann Gunderman, who organized the bike tour, has been working in Tanzania for six years. She volunteered in an orphanage for three summers while in college. "It was really dismal," she tells JS. The people working there were loving, she adds, but there weren't enough of them to deal with the kids' needs.
Gunderman returned to her native North Carolina, but she soon made her way back to Tanzania. "I was moved and inspired by the culture and the people," she says.
In 2007, she started TFFT. The foundation works with children in eight orphanages. It provides some of the orphans with scholarships to attend one of two boarding schools and runs after-school programs, including one in organic gardening. The foundation makes a point of working with schools run by Tanzanians, Gunderman says.
"I never thought I was going to make this my life," she tells JS. But it's worth it, she adds, when she sees the kids "thriving, coming to us with aspirations and ideas." One 3-year-old boy, she recalls, had bones so weakened by rickets (a vitamin-D deficiency) that he could only crawl. Now 9 years old, he is an excellent soccer player.
In between long rides each day, the cyclists will visit schools funded by TFFT. They also will go to town-hall meetings to hear Tanzanians speak about their needs.
"Rather than my team telling them about our services, they'll hear about it from the people who are benefiting," says Gunderman.
One of those Tanzanians is Richard Augustino, 15, who will be on the ride. Two years ago, Richard went from an orphanage to one of TFFT's schools. He has learned English, and his favorite subject is science. He wants to be an engineer or a pilot-or start his own school for orphans.
"I would be happy to be with people from outside Tanzania. I want to talk with them and ask them how they live in their country," he tells JS. "It is important because the people who come from outside of Tanzania will learn more about Tanzania."
The 35 cyclists or their sponsors will each donate at least $4,000 to TFFT. Travel, food, and lodging will cost another $4,000.
Riding over rough terrain, the cyclists will have to be in good shape. Macon Bianucci says that she's preparing by training every day and "focusing on the positive things" the group hopes to accomplish.
The Bianucci sisters fell in love with Tanzania the first time they went there, in 2006. This will be their fifth visit to the country.
"It was shocking to see that amount of poverty," Miller says. "But everyone was really nice to us. The poor people are trying to do things to better themselves. The orphans are like the kids I babysit. We know the kids the money is going to, and that makes it all the more meaningful for us."
The biggest difference between Tanzania and the United States, says Macon, is "what we have compared with what they have." In Tanzania, if kids can't afford a uniform or books, they can't go to school.
"They really want to learn," she tells JS. "We take it for granted. It makes me think when I complain about school."
For more information about TFFT, go to thefoundationfortomorrow.org.
Photos courtesy the Bianucci family