What will Centrus take from the West Africa Cycle Challenge
Seven members of the Centrus team recently returned from a trip to Sierra Leone and Liberia involving a 300km bike ride across the two countries in aid of Street Child, a charity which supports vulnerable children and promotes education in these two and three other countries.
Aside from my own challenge of dragging a middle aged, “office-ready” body across such a distance in hot and dusty conditions, I and the rest of the team had to overcome a number of obstacles including an over-handlebars crash about 20 seconds after setting off on our ride (hat tip to Jon Cawdron), remembering to take on around 6 litres of water and salts each day, some small and rather itch inducing bed companions and finally fish heads, which seemed to appear in most meals (including breakfast).
Fortunately, we and our fellow cyclists (numbering 16 in total) were brilliantly looked after by the Street Child team led by Roxanne, Wendy and Ashaka, medics Mina and Ralph and our local cycling companions from the Lunsar Cycling Team led by Karim. They ensured we knew where we were going, fed and watered us, tended to our cuts, grazes and various ailments and most importantly of all, sorted out the various bureaucratic obstacles (regional and international check-points, safe passage etc.) with minimum delay.
Aside from the physical challenge of the ride itself, we found ourselves in an alien environment, far removed from the comfort and ease of our day to day lives. After all, these are countries recovering from the twin ravages of the Ebola epidemic and civil war, both of which have taken a significant toll on family and community structure and cohesion. During our visits to Street Child projects, we heard countless stories of families where one or both parents had died, sometimes leaving single grandmothers to raise a young family without any support or safety net. The local health and education services that we take for granted at home are much more precarious. We heard stories of young children walking 12 miles each way to school and communities which were 4-5 hours’ drive from a hospital but where the poor had little hope of being able to afford to pay someone with a car to drive them there. The story that stayed with me most was of an orphanage where a lady who is herself a polio survivor, cares for 21 children, including some with severe disabilities.
Sierra Leone and liberia are recovering from the twin ravages of the ebola epidemic and civil war, both of which have taken a significant toll on family and community structure
It is pretty sobering stuff and underlines the enormity of the developmental challenge facing countries like Sierra Leone and Liberia. Nonetheless, amongst all this was some life affirming hope in the shape of resilient, warm and welcoming people who are bouncing back from the huge challenges they have faced. There was a real friendliness from the local people; cycling past a car coming the other way down the road, or track in some cases, there would almost always be a wave and a shout of welcome or encouragement from one of the people inside (or in some cases, one of the people sitting on the roof or bonnet). There was a clear desire to invest in the future by ensuring – with the support of Street Child and other charities and NGOs – that children receive an education and the enthusiasm of the children themselves was equally evident.
Amongst all this was some life afirming hope in the shape of resilient, warm and welcoming people who are bouncing back from the huge challenges they have faced
During the trip, we were able to strip ourselves back to the basics in terms of tough physical exercise, simple food and accommodation and perhaps most importantly switching off from the constant bombardment of data that we normally subject ourselves to. We could rely instead on direct human company and conversation. We were also able to witness communities for whom this way of living is a day to day reality and the strong societal ties that they retain which have often been lost in our more urbanised and “advanced” lives.
This was no doubt an experience that will stay with us for the rest of our lives
This was no doubt an experience that will stay with us for the rest of our lives. From a Centrus perspective it was also a great team building and personal growth exercise for all of us and as I watched the energy, enthusiasm, humanity and warmth of my colleagues and the way they carried themselves throughout the trip it brought home to me how lucky we are to have such great people working for Centrus and the values and leadership skills that they will bring back into the work environment from an experience like this. One of our core values as a business is around the Power of the Team and this was on display in spades there, so I would like to thank David, Jonathan Clarke & Jonathan Cawdron, Lawrence, Manolis and Paige for being great travel companions and for helping to make this such an incredible journey. It was also great to have a Centrus client, Simon Gibbs from Curo, on the trip with us as part of the team. When we opted for “Clients First” as one of our key Centrus values, it wasn’t necessarily intended that we would sleep head to toe in the same bed as our clients, but we do aim to go the extra mile…!
One of our core values as a business is around the power of the team and this was on display in spades there, so i would like to thank all of the team for being great travel companions and for helping to make this such an incredible journey
Finally, so far we have raised more than £54,000 for Street Child, including a £12,500 donation from Centrus Communities. We’d like to thank all of the friends, colleagues, clients and business partners who have supported us so generously in our fundraising efforts, it really is appreciated and the total raised up to the end of February 2018 will be matched by the UK Government, helping Street Child to continue its valuable work. For anyone wishing to help us in our push towards the £60,000 mark, the link to our sponsorship page is set out below.
Special thanks to Chris Walter and Street Child for the footage provided.