How can I capture or summarize the impact of ten weeks of continuous cycling. Each day, though it followed a similar pattern of “eat, sleep and bike, was filled with many impressions, unexpected events, chance encounters, spectacular views, heart breaking situations, terrorizing situations, sheer bliss, uplifting conversations, ABI challenges, and so much more. The abundance of experiences will percolate in my thoughts for a long time.
One of the main threads is an increased appreciation for those living in poverty and an increased conviction that there are many roads out of poverty. The summer has been a learning experience as different solutions have become evident.
Learning by observing
Just like cycling across the widest country in North America takes commitment and a willingness to address challenges, so to does gaining a deeper understanding of poverty. Taking part in the Sea to Sea charity ride gradually expanded my awareness about and demonstrated ways to help to end the cycle of poverty. The ride has exposed me to big projects and simple acts of hope.
Cycling six days a week took me through variety of neighbourhoods, ranging from grotesque affluence to abject poverty. I probably didn’t see the worst situations because I cycled through communities that had roads. It makes one wonder how much worse it is in some northern communities where there is no road access and the community infrastructure leaves much to be desired.
This ride has heightened my own awareness of the many faces of poverty. I know I have only seen a glimpse of the visible side of poverty. The hidden faces of poverty can elude us unless someone points it out.
I need time to consider how my deeper awareness will change what I do. Change sometime begins in small ways. Let me share one small example.
I do want to clarify that my acts of kindness are not the kinds of things I normally talk about. It’s not for me to announce or brag about what I do for someone else.
“But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,” Matthew 6:3 NIV
As I reflect on my first day back home I realized that even in small ways I am recognizing the needs of others and feeling compelled to act.
I was in a grocery store yesterday. A capable looking senior was ahead of me at the checkout. He was struggling to fit all his groceries in a knapsack. He managed to put the remaining groceries in a second bag he had. I asked if he was biking home. His response was, “No, I’m walking.” When I heard where he lived I offered to take him to his house. He jumped at the offer, saying it would definitely save his legs.
On the ride over to his apartment building Ron, as he had introduced himself, commented about Cobourg being a ‘Nobourg’ kind of place. He had struggled all his life with jobs eventually ending up in Cobourg. Despite having some very marketable skills, each time a company restructured he was the low man on the totem pole and had to go look for employment elsewhere. His life long struggle was evident in the way he presented himself. His appreciation for the lift was heartfelt.
Learning by listening
At various times while cycling across the continent we listened to presentations about projects that had been initiated by local citizens wanting to address specific needs. Many of these projects were run by a small group of volunteers with minimal resources, yet determined to reach out and help. These were projects motivated by people who had a heart for others and were willing to give, give, give.
One community ran a coffee house in which they offered breakfast ‘free or by donation’ a couple times a week. Their facility was small but that didn’t stop them from running a second hand store as well.
Another community re-purposed a church transforming it from a single use place of worship to a multi-use, multi-denominational place of living out one’s Christianity. They lived their faith with the sense that work and worship should be one. It was a place that provided support for people in various ways. They provided shelter, ran a cafe and sold merchandise which had been made locally.
Each time we listened to a presentation we were shown another initiative that would bring a shimmer of hope back into the lives of the poor.
We also heard about projects being done by Partners Worldwide, one of the tour sponsors. Partners Worldwide does work in several developing countries. It’s the business model that they have adopted that I find most intriguing – they are intentional about ending the cycle of poverty. Or shall I say they are intentional about ending of dependency, getting people beyond relying on the kindness or generosity of others to hopefully meet their basic needs.
Partners Worldwide works with people by using the resources on hand to help a person or family become financially independent. They will mentor farmers so they can grow crops that are more productive and help them with getting quality produce to market. In some locations they will assist with fees to verify that the farmer has legal title to the land.
Partners Worldwide will also provide micro-loans so farmers have start up money. With the comprehensive support that is being offered, farmers are often able to repay the loan ahead of schedule.
The most encouraging part of this type of help, is that the farmers who succeed become mentors to others in the community. Living with regained dignity and new found hope, out of thankfulness they want to help others. You could say, helping people out of poverty becomes contagious.
Learning through conversation
When cycling through towns and villages it was very easy to get into conversations with people as people are going about their daily activities. The slow speed of a bike and the fact that bikes don’t have a barrier called a windshield, put me in direct contact with people. Sometimes it was just a quick greeting and a couple of words. Other times it was a longer conversation in which a person shared their struggles or disappointments.
I got a sense that when a person shares their story there is an underlying sense of hope. They might be describing their struggles but in sharing they told their story, a story of perseverance, a story of hope.
These were stories of celebration. These stories weren’t about a life of abundance, but rather one of simplicity, one of thankfulness because their basic needs are met. They were out and about. They were participating in their community.
The poor, those who have lost hope are not interested in sharing their story. My sense is that once someone reaches out and partners with them they will begin to regain their self worth. As they start to feel the stirrings of hope they will begin to share their story.
A Cobourg initiative
for many people, poverty is only one mishap away. It might be a car breaking down and no longer being able to get to work. Repairing the car might mean there is not enough money for rent at the end of the month.
Last spring, a report was shared at a meeting in Cobourg. According to a survey conducted in the spring of 2017 there are over 1000 people in Northumberland County that are homeless. Some of those people are on the street. Some of those people are ‘couch surfing’. Some of those people are hidden from view in other ways.
Cobourg has a unique way of helping people with one of their essential needs. A group of volunteer have set up a ‘do it yourself’ shop to help community members with some basic transportation needs. Cycle Transitions helps community members acquire an affordable bike and teach them how to maintain it. The shop has volunteers who offer their experience with bicycle repair and take the time to teach cyclists to do their own repairs. Those who can’t afford a bike can earn one by volunteering at the shop and build up ‘sweat equity’ towards owning a bike.
I love this model of working with people who have minimal resources. It is empowering. Each person who works through Cycle Transitions not only gets a bike for basic transportation, but learns how to maintain a bike. They’ve earned the bike and have a vested interest and the knowledge to keep it in safe working order.
I hope to explore ways in which I can make a difference for people who live in poverty. I started the ride with a general sense of it is good to help the poor. I completed the ride with a strong conviction that there are effective ways to help people. The dozen or so success stories I heard this summer means there are a thousand more untold success stories out there.
I will continue to promote awareness of ways in which we can work to end the cycle of poverty, one person or one family at a time.
The oldest rider who cycled with us the whole way was 81 years old. He has many years on me. Don’t be surprised when I find another opportunity to take on another cycling adventure that helps raise money and awareness about poverty. There will always be people who need and would welcome a hand up, a mentor or someone to partner with them.