I find that the first thing I do when I get home from traveling, like a lot of people, is start thinking about where I want to go to next. When I got home from volunteering in La Florida, Guatemala earlier this year, I was in just that mindset when I got an email about a charity event that involved climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa. My first thought was, “What an accomplishment that would be.”
It seems that since my experience with YCI in January, I cannot do “normal” vacations anymore. To me traveling should be about cultural immersion, personal accomplishments or involve development work of some kind. I was never one for beach resorts but, more so now, I find that I seek an experience over a tan and a hangover any day.
So I started reading everything I could about Kilimanjaro. I ordered a DVD from a tour group, read about the mountain’s history and watched YouTube videos of groups summiting “The Roof of Africa,” all the while thinking, “This is going to be me next year.” However, at the same time, the avid cyclist in me was looking at bike tours. Tours of east coast Canada, Ireland and Eastern Europe were all peaking my interest, but I was committed to climb Kili and the bicycle tours were going to have to wait; and that was that.
That is, until a friend of mine sent me an email that was just a link to an article. It was an email that has changed the course of my life. (And yes, I know; I make far too many life-altering decisions based on random emails, but what can I say? I go where the wind takes me.) The article was about a bicycle tour called the Tour d’Afrique. My first thought about this one was “That is insane. . .I have to do it!”
The Tour d’Afrique is an epic bicycle tour, and actually also a race, that spans almost the entire length of the African continent. Starting in Cairo, Egypt, the tour runs for four months, 11,953 kilometers all the way to Cape Town, South Africa. It is a physical and mental challenge so massive that I immediately said, “Kilimanjaro be damned, I am doing this.”
So I committed to this tour, started telling everyone my plan (except, for the longest time, my boss) and started giving a lot of thought to how I am actually going to pull this off. Currently, I have my savings plan in full swing to participate in the tour of 2012. I now have my Africa bike, the MEC Côte (which I just got a week ago and I love), and I am signing up for races this summer to keep me in shape and on the bike.
I also understand by traveling through something like 12 Africa countries, it is going to be hard to deal with the poverty that we are inevitably going to see along the way. From my experience with YCI in Guatemala, I know that extreme poverty is painful to see–but the reason I was there was to work hard and help them. That can make it easier and provide a sense of accomplishment that is truly unparalleled.
I decided that I wanted to try and use this opportunity as a fundraiser so I could feel as though I was contributing in some way. So I started researching not-for-profit organizations that operate out of Africa, and specifically countries on my tour that I could possibly support. The NGO that I liked the most for this partnership was Plan Canada. Plan Canada (formerly Foster Parent’s Plan of Canada) has been helping children in third world countries for a very long time. They set me up with my own fundraising page (I created my own sub-domain so that it’s much easier to find) where I have set a goal of exactly $11,953 that will go directly into a program that provides food for children in schools in Sudan (the second country on my tour). It is an ambitious amount for an ambitious bike ride.
So that’s where I am today; saving money, training, trying to raise money and trying to find sponsors until my departure of January 2012. For more information on Plan Canada, please visit their website or add me to Facebook to learn more about fundraising events I will be hosting in the next year.
-Ben Frisch, YCI Alumnus, Guatemala 2010. Apart from volunteering and travelling, Ben is also an amazing artist. (The staff at YCI love his work.) You can check out his online portfolio at www.benfrisch.com.