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 lefthand 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.
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
I had gone to Subway in Transcona when I was visiting Winnipeg. I planned to take advantage of their free WiFi with no intent to buy anything. After standing outside the restaurant with my cell phone for 15 minutes I decided to inconspicuously take a seat inside.
I was greeted by one of the workers who wondered where I was from. He had seen the bicycle when I leaned it against the window. He told me he had never been outside of Winnipeg and wanted to know the best place in Canada to visit.
After chatting with him off and on for a half hour he offered me a bowl of cream of mushroom soup. I had initially declined the offer as I had ended the day with a good supper. I changed my mind and told him I would love some. I offered to pay for it but he told me the soup would have been thrown out because they were closing for the night.
I decided I would put up a thank you facebook post of his gesture of generosity. He clearly wasn’t offering the soup because I was a good client. There was a different motivation.
To do the facebook post I asked for his name. Now I knew I had been speaking with Kiza. His name intrigued me. Turns out he is from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo). His parents had fled for their lives from DR Congo due to political unrest, and Kiza had been born in a refugee camp.
At age two Kiza’s parents left him with his grandparents and moved on to another refugee camp where they figured their opportunity to get sponsorship was better. Once his parents arrived in Winnipeg his parents made application to get Kiza to Canada. Kiza wasn’t reunited with his parents till he was nine years old.
During the time that Kiza was in a refugee camp he already valued education. He arrived in Canada speaking Swahili, Bengali and French. His command of English was impressive because I found him easy to understand.
Kiza’s experience in the refugee camp taught him several life lessons. He recalls his father skimping on food so Kiza and his brothers would be able to eat. He told me that when you have little means, family is everything. The second thing he told me is that when you have little means you smile a lot. We’re smiling because once you stop smiling you have nothing. If you lose your spirit you have no future.
When I met Kiza he had just graduated from high school and was very pleased to have been accepted into university. He was working his summer job to save up for his tuition fees.
To help save up for university he had been cycling to work. Initially it took him an hour but over time he reduced his commuting time to twenty minutes. On top of that he arrives at work feeling energized. Having biked almost halfway across Canada I could certainly relate to that.
Kiza is overjoyed at being accepted into university. He appreciated the free education offered through high school. His acceptance into university was a very important stepping stone towards realizing his dreams. The fact that his education through high school was free made him even more appreciative of the Canadian educational system, because, as he sees it, it opens up opportunities for anyone who has dreams.
His goal after completing his university degree is to help rebuild DR Congo. He wonders whether that is dreaming too big. There is so much that needs to be done to rebuild DR Congo. The problems are many and he wonders how someone can even figure out where to start.
I assured him that one can never dream too big. Dreaming too small will result in short changing himself and lead to disappointment. Keep dreaming big and stay focused. Dream big and share the dream.
His sense is that it is best to start with the next generation. He thinks promoting education and making it available is the best place to start. Ensure that all children receive basic literacy. He wants young people to expand their education to include learning trades like electrician so they can help rebuild their country while at the same time develop a sense of satisfaction.
Kiza proudly shares that he is motivated out of a sense of appreciation for the opportunities that Canada is giving him. He’s not looking for a hand out. That’s the furthest from his mind. His motivation comes out of a sense of hope because deep down he believes that he can make a difference.
Chantel, Kiza’s co-worker at Subway, appreciates him for the colour he adds to the place. She says it with a chuckle realizing the double meaning.
When Kiza shares his dreams his excitement is infectious. Even as a teen he lives with a clear idea of what his priorities are. His toughest choice at this time is between helping his family when they need something and getting his tuition money together.
Kiza is one of three people I know who have been displaced because of the war in DR Congo. All three are focused on finding ways to help their country recover from the political strife and assist in the rebuilding of their nation. Seeing his love and dedication for his country, a land that he has never seen, prompted me to share a book with him.
The book is titled Still With Us: Msenwa’s Untold Story of War, Resilience and Hope. I met Msenwa Oliver Mweneake shortly after he arrived in Canada. He shares a story that involves twice fleeing from DR Congo. Despite that he lives with a strong conviction that God has a purpose for him, a purpose to help rebuild his beloved country.
It was an honour to meet Kiza. The whole time he was talking to me, he was busy doing the daily end of the day clean up. While he talked his hands never stopped working.
Hearing Kiza’s story I more clearly understood why he could not just dump the cream of mushroom soup. When someone lives with a spirit of generosity, sharing in the plenty is a natural response.
Even though Kiza is living in an economically struggling home, he does not live with a spirit of poverty. Poverty is not part of his vocabulary.
Kiza is clearly motivated by gratitude, appreciation and the belief that he has the personal resources to make a difference.
July 17, 2017 was my first time in Fort Qu’Appelle. I had ridden to Fort Qu’Appelle with my cycling buddy, a short 80 km ride from Regina. We had traveled down some quiet roads, enjoying the tranquility of the open skies. It was likely the rough condition of the road that accounted for the lack of traffic.
As I was cycling along I noticed a highway maintenance truck waiting along the side of the road. I stopped to talk with the operator when I noticed he was driving a tarring rig. I asked if the plan was to tar the road today. His response was, “Yes, we got to fix this highway.” I expressed surprise that he called it a highway. If this is considered a highway then we don’t have much hope for what it called the Trans-Canada Trail.
I was assured that the tarring wouldn’t begin till all the cyclist had passed this point They were still waiting for the tar which was scheduled to arrive in about an hour. This being Saskatchewan that would likely mean a three hour wait.
When we arrived in Fort Qu’Appelle, having ridden with a tailwind most of the way, I decided to stop for a blizzard at the local DQ. We rode through the drive-through but got no response. Turns out they were open but busy getting things set up for the day. I warned the staff of two that there were about eighty riders headed into the town. Within the next forty-five minutes the place was overrun by almost half of the cyclist.
After setting up my tent I hiked into town with my riding buddy. Two blocks in we reached Broadway Ave. Judging by the layout this was definitely the main street. With a Bargain Store a half a block from the Dollar Store there were some obvious signs of entrepreneurial competition in town.
After meeting several friendly and welcoming locals in our stroll along Broadway, we encountered a quiet park with a Four Season mural. Some first nations women from Sandy Lake just four miles up the road picked up conversation with us. They liked the idea of posing for a picture. They had found a spot in the shade, probably their regular spot and had almost finished their bottle of rum by noon. I had the clear impression that they spent most of their time in this parkette between two stores. Other than a bench in the shade and a mural there was nothing else there. You could say they had each other.
We passed the local hardware store which seemed well stocked with up to date equipment. Of interest was a fold up 160 watt solar panel and controller for $499. The attendant was explaining how this could be hooked up to 3 or 4 deep cycle batteries and maintain the power needed for an RV.
What caught my interest even more was a pickup and trailer parked on the side street beside the hardware store. The signage on the back of the trailer – Vermin Exterminator – caught my interest. The way the trailer was parked and packed up it looked like to school desk like arrangement one set behind the other. I decided that I would prefer to be the person sitting on the back ‘desk’. I knew I definitely wouldn’t want to be the driver when everything was set up.
As we were looking at the trailer, the owner Ron walked up. Turns out his well known no-name business provides a much desired service – exterminating gophers, beavers, coyotes and skunks. He set up one of his stations with a holder for his gun, and just as important a flag so he can keep an eye on the wind speed and direction. (Assured him that as cyclists we were well aware of the havoc that the wind could cause.) The ‘desks’ as well as the gun stand were on a swivel. Next to the gun is a counter. His record is eliminating 740 gophers in one day.
Being that the trailer is designed as a two person operation, Ron said he is very particular who he takes along as his shooting buddy. He always takes the back seat – smart guy. As the back seat guy he swivels in a 180 degree arc over the back of the trailer. The person in the front seat swivels in a 180 degree arc towards the front of the trailer. If the operator accidentally hits the truck Ron reasons that it can be replaced. It’s a bit harder to replace a fellow operator.
Found a health food store so I could pick up some Nuun, an electrolyte to keep me sustained while riding during the extreme ride days. They also had some iodine for internal use. It was great to see a store carrying quality health vitamins and supplements.
While taking a picture of an original Hudson Bay Company store I was cautioned by Leon a First Nations local. As he drove by me he stopped and said, “Hey man, you got to be careful.” I was crouched beside a flower planter in the middle of Broadway. After he parked his car he was proudly giving me the history of the Hudson Bay Company store. Clearly the store had been repurposed. He was adamant that another stone building just around the corner was even older.
As I was walking away from Leon I mentioned I was looking for a bike shop. He directed me to the pawnshop which he assured me had both tires for sale as well as bikes. I kindly declined as I wasn’t sure how reliable their stock might be. I wasn’t able to find a bike shop in town. I might have to wait till we get to Yorkton.
Walking along we soon found ourselves in front of the Peace Hills Trust building, a Star – Blanket – Cree – Nation building. The signage indicated some helpful services for the indigenous population for the area, the Cree. The sign indicated that the building housed the Treaty Land Entitlement Office. The other offices in the building included Sask First Nations Safety Assoc., Q-Bow Child and Family Services Inc. and the office for Red Dog Holding. The sub-text on the sign was “Advocators of Community & Personal Developments.
I found a Coop at the end of Broadway’s business strip. My only reason for going in was to satisfy my longing for some orange juice. I decided that a 1.75 litre bottle for $2.70 was a better deal than a half litre bottle for $3.25. I would have no problem downing the whole 1.75 litre bottle before the afternoon was done.
In front of the Valley Bake & Coffee Shop, known for it’s Bavarian Pastries we met Eddie. As he approached the bakery door he stopped and waited. He seemed curious about seeing two ‘strangers’ in town. We got to talking. He was retired for 3 year but couldn’t believe he was that old already. He had been farming but now wasn’t able to work. The farm work had taken a toll on his body.
In the 1990’s Eddie and his brother were running a beef farm of 240 head of cattle. A few years ago, due to drought conditions he was forced to sell most of his herd. He had been farming for a couple years with his herd reduced to 40 head. When he couldn’t make ends meet he sold seven quarter sections, the last of his land, for $150,000. A few years earlier he had gotten $75,000 for a section of land. When he moved off the farm he still owed money on a farm.
Eddie wished he still had his herd of cattle because today the price for beef are very good. He’s getting used to living in town and enjoys coming to the Bavarian bakery. He is reluctant to buy goods there because then he needs to work it off.
Fort Qu’Appelle is not much different from many other towns we have cycled through. Particularly the smaller towns. There are many places where the contrast between wealth and poverty can be seen. While there were no indications of it being a thriving town, the realty office showcased properties ranging from half million to a couple million. Obviously they were catering to a very select market.
Later in the day when I biked ten kilometers along Echo Lake I realized why they had a high end selection of houses. That’s where I saw some whimsical stuff like a toilet at the end of a driveway.
The main highway highlighted many of the recognized national franchises. If one is driving through the area the real character of the town remains hidden. The heart of the town could be seen two kilometers off the highway. In the downtown section one can enjoy local baking, cooking and friendly service but best of all was meeting the interesting local folk.
Meanwhile we are set up with tents and campers housing the 90 riders and support staff making the local elementary school look like a refugee camp. The refugee camp appearance hides the reality of who are housed there overnight. The appearance of poverty and transience is only incidental. We have the privilege and luxury to move on as we choose.
We are riding and raising money to help end the cycle of poverty both here in Canada and in other parts of the world. To more fully appreciate the purpose of Sea to Sea it is helpful to meet and speak with people who are dealing with poverty – whether that is poverty of spirit, or economic poverty.
It’s interesting to note that the bison is a mere skeleton, yet against that background someone had the courage to still dream big. To me, the skeleton represents the depletion of personal, family and ancestral resources due to years of mistreatment by European settlers with whom they thought they were sharing the land and its resources.
What will it take to change the story for out first nations people as we recognize Canada as a nation for the past 150 years?
When I was training for my Sea to Sea tour I stopped at a lemonade stand being run by two pre-schoolers. I was looking for a grocery store to get some drinks for my ride when I heard this young voice ask if I wanted to some lemonade.
I did a quick U-turn and saw a 4 your old and his younger sister sitting at a table on the boulevard with a glass pitcher of ice floating in lemonade. The sister was all excited about having a paying customer. “Mom he gave us a toonie!” I asked the brother if he had tasted the lemonade. He hadn’t. So I asked if he knew whether it was good. Mom had supplied them and set them up probably with strict instructions that they were not to help themselves to the lemonade.
The next day I stopped by to see how the lemonade ventured turned out. The kids had raised $42 in one day. They pleaded with their mother to set up again the next day. When their mother talked to them about donating a percentage they were not as excited.
Partners World Wide
What the mother did for her children, with incredible stories, similar to what Partners Worldwide does for families in developing nations. For the two children their mother had given them a hand up by providing the lemonade, the cups and the furniture for the lemonade stand.
Partners Worldwide provides micro loans, often loans of less than $200. This provides families with the resources needed to become self sufficient.
Mark Ismond, engagement manager from Partners Worldwide shared an experience of a community in an African country where their life had been seriously disrupted. Raiders from the mountain area had been repeatedly coming into the villages stealing their cattle. As a result the young men were not able to accumulate a dowry. Without a dowry there was no prospect of them getting married. In turn the young me formed armed groups and hung out in the bush. They were returning violence with violence spending most of their time in the bush.
One of the elders in the village had a plan to turn the situation around. The young men were offered land on which to grow sweet potatoes. Partners Worldwide provided the micro-loans to start the project for each of the young men. The elder agreed to buy all the sweet potatoes they produced and sell them in the city markets.
In turn the young men were able to make a better living than when they were raising cattle. They were able to avoid a lifestyle of violence and accumulate a dowry to get married.
Partners Worldwide was the catalyst that enabled the villages to thrive. A great example of a hand up rather than a handout. On average it takes a hand up of $150 to help a family out of poverty.
Sea to Sea fundraising
By setting a target of $12,000 as a nation rider with Sea to Sea my funds raised will support 80 projects. Having surpassed my goal and raised about $16,000 that means my funds raised will support 106 projects.
When you think about the hope that one project can bring to a family, that is a lot of hope that is countering so much of the brokenness and poverty in the world.
If you choose to bring hope by helping a family or person out of poverty feel free to donate today. At the prompt you can type the name of any other rider you want to encourage in their efforts to help.
I was sitting in the back of the church sanctuary, a place that has become familiar. The longer I listened to the seasonal lyrics the greater the contrasts of two realities came into focus. The disconnect was real. It was strange to find myself in tears as the congregants were singing in wonderful harmony.
Silent night, Holy night…
The lyrics made associations with the celebratory nature of Christmas. At that moment the ‘merry’ part of Christmas was not within my reach. As the carol singing continued, I was wandering in a confused and disrupted mental landscape.
The neural loading during the first part of the worship service had been gradual and subtle. The ‘greeting’ part of the liturgy was two long minutes of chaos; handshakes all around and brief introductions. I had joined in the responsive reading that followed till I lost focus.
The meaning of the words got lost navigating my compromised neural network. My network lacked the necessary efficiency to comprehend the full message. My mind wandered a few lines into the reading.
All is calm, all is bright...
Each element of the liturgy gradually and subtly moved me away from a calm and focused worship. This, along with the pains which resurfaced with my recent struggles added to the nagging discomfort whether I sit, stand or walk. As my body pendulated between headache and fatigue a sense of calm eluded me.
Away in a manger no crib for…
The disrupted sleep added to both the fatigue and headaches. While in recovery mode any available energy is redirected to the essential areas. The brain is an opportunist that co-opts whatever energy happens to presents itself and claims it for the most essential job of mending the compromised neural network.
… no crying he makes…
These discomforts added to my emotional vulnerability, and left me out of tune with the spirit of the music. Tears filled my eyes much too easily.
As I lost focus I retreated into myself. I questioned the authenticity of the line from the lyrics that echoed in my brain. I choose to believe that like any other baby, that the Christ baby cried, probably even screamed. It’s definitely more reassuring to consider he cried. He would have cried for all the world to hear when he was hungry because his mother’s milk was slow to come in. He would have cried when the swaddling clothes were soiled and Mary hadn’t noticed it because the manure from the animals would have distracted her.
Hark the herald angels sing, “Glory to the …
At one point I once again joined in the singing.
While I have always enjoyed singing, (though choir participation never was my forte,) lately music moves me more deeply. Singing and live music has a vibrancy that can’t be missed. It touches me deeper than almost any other art form, the words, the melody, the reverberations of tones and overtones. While my sensory loading reached it’s manageable limit there was a comfort that came with the emotions that emerged.
… to all he brings, risen with healing in his …
Deep down I know that Christmas is a message of hope. Hope for those who don’t find it anywhere else. The promise of healing reaches deeper than the merry greetings of Christmas. That’s what helped me close the gap between the lyrics and the space I found myself in.
Once in royal David’s city … he feels for all our sadness …
The lyrics affirmed me. It gave me a sense of hope, a reason to celebrate.
Praise the Lord, … and forget not all his benefits… and heals all my diseases … crowns me with love and compassion… Ps 103 in the Communion liturgy
My grandson held my hand as we joined the procession to the communion table. Observing Christ’s death as a preparation for marking the birth of Christ?
Communion actually brings the Christmas message into focus. After all, isn’t his birth the quiet but official marking of “Let His Suffering Begin.” His suffering with a definite purpose.
With a short but pronounced slurp my grandson cleared the last drops of grape juice from the individual communion shot glass.
This makes Easter joy a reality, makes it real. It reaffirmed that the birth of Christ was to accept his invitation of healing, of bringing wholeness and restoration to my life.
Joy to the world the Lord has come ...
... No more let sin and sorrow grow
nor thorns infest the ground;
he comes to make his blessings flow
far as the curse if found ...
Even while I struggle I look forward to marking Christmas as a time of laughter, a celebration with family, friends and community. Not with the same spontaneity or exuberance but nevertheless with a sense of Joy that comes when celebrating with people who can be authentic with each other; sharing tears, sharing joy, sharing hopes for tomorrow.