Two Derry men who have just returned from an intense charity cycle in Rwanda have described the experience as humbling.
Keen cyclists Chris McElwee and Paul Linkens say they knew they would face an awesome physical challenge during the cycle. The group of 15 cyclists - eleven from Northern Ireland and the rest from England and Wales - cycled over 110 miles in high temperatures, with an elevation reaching over 6,000 feet in the ‘Land of a Thousand Hills.’
The challenge was in aid of Tearfund, one of the charities of Derry and Strabane District Council’s Mayor, Alderman Hilary McClintock, for her year in office. The local cyclists were given a special mayoral reception here ahead of their expedition.
Speaking on his return, Chris McElwee said: “I put lots of miles in to train for it, but when the cycling began I knew that I could have done more. It was tough.”
Paul Linkens added: “I was quite worried about the higher temperatures and the long climbs. Cycling in Derry and Donegal is generally cold and wet, with short steep hills: very different to Rwanda! I wasn’t able to keep up with the peloton’s leaders - I’m no spring chicken - but I kept going at my own pace.
The group of cyclists, mainly from Northern Ireland, set out on the cycle with the aim of raising £50,000 to help people in Rwanda move from a cycle of despair to a cycle of hope. The group has already reached almost 80 per cent of their target.
Chris McElwee said he was particularly moved by the chance to meet some of the people the Cycle would help: “When meeting the beneficiaries, it was good to see how they had began to overcome their situations and were helping one another. To see firsthand how Tearfund was helping them was both humbling and an honour to be part of,” he said.
The group met one woman who left a particular impact on Derry man, Paul, as he explained:
“I met a woman whose family sleeps on banana leaves: with a real sense optimism one woman told me that if I came back next year she would have mattresses for her three children. The determination to keep going, even through personal disappointment and with very meagre resources, was palpable. Community self-help groups set up by Tearfund provide support and small loans to enable families to make changes in what they grow and sell. In turn they can buy land, build a home, and get medical insurance.
“The genocide in Rwanda is hard to grasp, how neighbour cut-down neighbour. Behind the hatred was a deliberate and co-ordinated narrative that would deliberately put people against each other. Those in power appeared to have stirred up the division in an attempt to hold onto their position. Power can be a toxic thing. But if Rwanda has come back from the brink, then there is hope.”
The Mayor of Derry, Hilary McClintock, is gearing up to host a Tearfund event at the Guildhall later this month: an evening of conversation with the McAllisters, a family from Northern Ireland now working to bring hope to people in the Democratic Republic of Congo, interviewed by journalist Jude Hill. The evening will also feature music from the New Irish Choir and Orchestra and will take place at 8PM on March 24th. Tickets are £5 and can be purchased from www.tearfund.org/ni.