Surprises abounded, but ‘Africa is a continent of solutions’

Posted March 9th, 2012 in active living,cycling,health,nonprofit,philanthropy,spartanburg
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Over 15 years ago I had an experience in Africa that transformed the way I looked at the world.   In an orphanage in Zimbabwe Africa I met a young boy who, without knowing it, created a passion inside of me and shrank the globe all at the same time.

The passion would lead to a dedication to Africa that would be hard to shake.  This dedication leads me to read novels about Africa, subscribe to news feeds about Africa, think about strategies that can be easily employed to assist with the development in Africa, and this passion led to the development of globalbike.

Last year, after seven globalbike representatives biked from Kenya to the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro we hatched a new chapter in the globalbike story.  This chapter would be titled – Transformative Tourism.  The details would involve taking people from diverse backgrounds to experience Africa.  When globalbike began to develop this idea we had several motivations.  Transformative Tourism was a business strategy as it could lead to an increase in the donations that globalbike takes in to support bicycle donations.  It would also be a friend-raising strategy as we were quite sure that the people who joined us would have an experience of a lifetime, an experience that would make them ambassadors for our work and cause.  Lastly, it would be a simple strategy to share our contagious vision of bikes changing the world.

You have followed our story.  This story is one of surprises, our amazing experiences as a group, our creation of a 30-person family, aged 12 to 69, spanning 3 nations. globalbike has always and will continue to look to surprises as the place where we grow, learn, transform, and ultimately find the best solutions to challenges we face.

During the process of figuring out how to assemble the multiple boxes of bikes, my good friend Tim Challen from Kilimanjaro Initiative said something that I found so simple but so true.  “Africa is a continent of solutions.”  This is so true and immediately you can see this no matter what country you visit.  I have thought about this statement many times during our most recent stay in Tanzania.  I began to understand that this just might be what fuels my dedication to Africa.  Africa is a place where people want solutions AND where people implement them.

For example, on Thursday night we stayed in a beautiful Ndarakwai Lodge.  This 11,000 acre property had beautiful lodges and was focused on environmental stewardship.  There was only solar power at this lodge and some running water.   Now what drew me was Ndarakwai’s “solution” to showers.  Each hut had two large beams fashioned from trees with a pulley at the top.  On the pulley was a rope and just under the pulley was a green reservoir with a yellow garden hose coming out of the end.  Now when you “ordered a shower” a five gallon bucket of hot water would be delivered to your tent.  They would lower the reservoir, fill it with the water, hoist it back up and say “your shower is ready.”  This solution brought hot showers to the guest and minimized the usage of water.

If Africa is a country of solutions globalbike became a solutions implementer.  This trip tested out theories on what would work best in a tourist trip to a developing country.  The trip also proved many of our strategies to be true;  we secured lots of corporate, foundation and individual support for this trip,  we learned many lessons that will be implemented on future trips, and we sorted the assembly of 74 bikes in an extraordinarily short period of time.  This trip would ultimately be about surprises and solutions.

In ten short days globalbike proved that it could plan and implement a trip on the other side of the world.  globalbike proved that 30 people speaking 2 languages from 3 nations can create a bond so strong that saying goodbye is hard and emotional.  globalbike proved that when you take the term partnership seriously opportunities turn into future opportunities.

This trip took our group through some of the most challenging back roads in Tanzania.  It also showed us first hand the difficulties of rural poverty.  In the end this trip ended with a reception where we shook hands with the ____  Chebeke, the President of Tanzania.  The paradox isn’t lost on globalbike or its travelers.

While we sat at dinner on Saturday night the second to last group meal we discussed our personal transformations.  To hear our new friends from Kenya talk about what they learned about themselves and the world was a testament to the success of our trip.  It was a comment from Kennedy, a young man from rural Kenya that has stuck in my head while traveling back.  He said that this trip has been the best experience of his life,  he has gained new friends – family you could say.  He ended his short talk by saying while we will be separated by geography we are connected in spirit.

It’s this kind of transformation that makes the world small.  It’s the kind of transformation that globalbike anticipated, planned for, and ultimately worked diligently to achieve.  It’s the kind of transformation that makes this trip a huge success!

-Curt McPhail

This post originally appeared on the Tanzania on Two Wheels blog on on March 8.

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