There can be no better place in the whole world to think and to study than the Royal and Ancient town on the East Coast of Fife. With a population of around 16,000 people St Andrews offers much to a time of contemplation. It has seven golf courses, a 600-year-old University and with its ancient Medieval Cathedral (now in ruins) a place of pilgrimage. This ancient ideal of journey and how this can refresh the mind what foundational in the Charity – Cycle for Africa. What do you do when you complete a PhD? I believe the skills that you need in writing a long thesis – daily working on small chunks of writing and reading that appear to have no final conclusion and immediate benefit – are closely aligned to establishing an effective charity – we will see!! So there it began with its home in St Andrews and beautiful Scotland.
There were many slogans flying around in the early noughties – Make Poverty History, Help Blair Become Rich etc… – we started a local community project that connected with Kwazulu Natal, South Africa called – Back to Eden. The work supported an ‘allotment’ built in the grounds of the local primary school and fundraising for projects in South Africa. We worked with local villages in Kwazulu to support them growing their own produce, building baking ovens and constructing bridges that connected villages. Small ventures but ones that made a profound difference to the people’s way of life. At its heart was the environment, sustainable projects and a vision of an Edonic Paradise. This project more than any other had a great influence on the Charity – Cycle for Africa.
There is not better activity for the whole family, as well as for individuals, than cycling. It was amazing that, when our children were younger, we could grab a tandem or buy a tag-along and cycle. All those wonderful benefits of cycling – mind, body and the environment – can be shared by the whole family. To cut down on the hassle we booked through a company that provided the bikes, organised the route and booked the hotels (3*). It was fantastic that we could peddle around 30miles a day, stop for an ice-cream then arrive at our place of rest for a shower and a bite to eat. The children were great they got to see some wonderful places – from rich vineyards to ancient cathedrals – all along the Danube. Only cycling gets you close to people and places.
I am very proud that over the years I have raised over £100,000s for Charities that are connected with and serve the people of Africa. This, inspired by my time in Namibia, started at St John’s College, Durham University. I wanted us as a student body to look beyond the ancient academic walls of that great College on the Bailey and make a difference in the world. High ideals – maybe – but the passion was to make connections and, of course, to change the world. As a student body we started raising funds for the Alphonse Mohapi Scholarship. The Fund would allow a student from Lesotho to come to the college and to study for one academic year. This agreement was reciprocal, and I know that many from St John’s College have benefited from visiting Southern Africa.
In 1992 I took part in Operation Raleigh (Raleigh International) a twelve-week expedition to Namibia. As a young student it was my first time to Africa, and it was to leave a remarkable impression. The trip had three components: tag fish along the Skeleton Coast, build a trail through Waterberg National Park and canoe along the Kunene River. For many this is how the love affair with Africa begins – doing some voluntary work.
To get there I had to raise a few thousand pounds not a simple task and like many growing up at that time there wasn’t much money going around. I was very thankful to supermarkets who let me sit outside of their exits rattling tins, town councils who had spare cash in those days, the local community including the village church.
The conditions weren’t great, but it was a time for adventure and for life in all its fullness. To see the Namib Desert in all its splendour and the wildlife which quite simply born free to roam. To meet the people who were so hospitable and to enjoy the blazing sun and bright blue skies. Africa was gorgeous and it certainly was better than grey and grim surroundings of 90s England. Of course, the love affair and impression were to last and a yearning to be connected to that vast great wilderness had begun.