In May 2020, I visited a gentleman called Rick that I had never met before. I had heard a lot about his work in town as he is well known for being connected to the brilliant Genevieve’s Fair Trade Village which is run by his Wife Naret. Genevieve’s focuses on giving independence, opportunity and sustainability to those living with disabilities in Siem Reap. Naret , herself having a disability grew up knowing she wanted to help those in the same position. In 2018, my father actually bought me a beautiful wooden Buddha carved by a gentleman who had lost his legs from a landmine, he bought it from the Genevieve’s shop. Little did I know, 2 years later I would be tour guiding with the craftsmen and women from this shop!
So in May, Jake, Charles , Hayley and I visited Rick to discuss how we could help in his fight against hunger during the Covid Pandemic. We wanted to offer any hands-on help or online help. We were thinking quite small to start off, little did I know, I was about to embark on an epic journey which has now turned into Life Cycle 2020. 9 cyclists with unique disabilities, cycling around 300km from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap to raise money for the food bank. I was asked to guide this which is a complete honour!
I remember right back to our very first training session. I remember feeling nervous and a little worried about the cyclists. Many questions came to mind, ” are they able to balance on the bikes? Do they need bikes with amendments? Could they ride for 20km? What if they fall?” All these questions were filling my mind. In turn, what they showed me is that never to determine people by a disability. Never to question capability and what hard work and determination can look like.
Our first training ride, I remember seeing how happy the riders were. The bikes from Grasshopper are a very cool red and the riders took lots of photos & selfies of them riding showing everyone that they can ride bikes without question. This ride has given them purpose and something to be extremely proud of. That morning, we had ridden 20km on the main road as I was anxious about going off-road with all the sand and bumps. I stopped and asked the group if they would like to try the Angkor Thom Wall, I explained that it is bumpy and they should get off their bikes if they feel uncomfortable. What happened next was unreal. Naret and a few others, cycle with one arm. Balancing is hard with two hands, let alone only having 1 hand to steer. Naret made it look SO easy, going up hill, changing gears and balancing around the tree roots. We all made it up the hill and the riders told me in all their lives they had never been here and it was so beautiful. They were grinning and so excited. I remember thinking this was the start of a very inspiring journey. On our first ride, we ended up doing 40km, way more than I had anticipated. The riders weren’t even tired!!
After our 4th training ride, the riders were growing from strength to strength and I could see how proud they were. New cycling jerseys, all of them wearing sports trousers and shoes. A stark contrast from the first ride. One thing I have learnt, is not to set the boundary. I ask them how far they want to do and most of the time let them lead. I want them to feel that this is their ride, this is their achievement. As much responsibility as possible is theirs, they don’t need me constantly asking if they are ok or if they want a break. They can tell me when they are ready!
One of the most poignant moments for me came half way through a training ride. 2 of the riders were struggling to keep up with the group so we stopped for water to let them catch up. I have never asked any of the riders what their disabilities are. I didn’t need to know. The 2 riders sat down and rested, both then pulled up their trousers and I saw that they each had one prosthetic legs. I had to walk away and take a moment, as it really hit me in the feels. Life is hard in Siem Reap anyway but life in Siem Reap with a disability must throw a lot of challenges their way. These guys never once before asked me to stop or rest, they have never complained or anything. They didn’t stop for long and got back on the bike and pushed through. All these riders have volunteered their time to train and ride. All the money raised is going to the Siem Reap Food Bank. They are doing this for their country and the Cambodian people.
A few other highlights! One of the riders Wife works for Grasshopper Adventures, the company I worked at. She was talking to Jake a few weeks ago and told him how proud of her Husband she was. She was saying he has changed so much since he has been cycling with the group and how proud he is that he is cycling over 50km during training. She said his mood has improved and he has lost weight and drinking less. I saw her recently too and you could tell in her eyes how proud she is. Another heart-felt moment from this journey that will stick with me!
When I talk about the cycle to others, I have realized I still tend to focus on the riders disabilities, I am trying to really learn that I don’t need to outline they have a disability but I just want people to know how incredibly remarkable these people are. I would love to learn more so if anyone reading this wants to bring up a discussion about it, please do message me.
What we are raising money for?
The Siem Reap Food Bank was originally created to help feed families with disabilities who had lost their income due to the COVID-19 virus. However, it soon became apparent that many families, not just families with disabilities have fallen into poverty and are in need of food support so we decided to expand our scope to include other most vulnerable households.
Siem Reap is deteriorating quickly and it breaks my heart to see how many people have been affected by the lack of tourism. It is not going to end quickly and that is why it is so important that the Siem Reap Food Bank is around to help as much as they can,
If you can donate, please follow the link below: https://www.gofundme.com/f/hang-on-you-are-not-alone