I don’t think my partner Haydn or I would have considered ourselves activists when we set off to cycle around the world for charity. That may sound strange but it genuinely wasn’t our initial agenda. Our main aims at the beginning of the trip were to explore the world in an intimate way, becoming less naïve about humankind and to raise money and awareness for the incredible grassroots charity, Help Refugees. We wanted to explore in an earth-friendly way so set ourselves the challenge of travelling like nomads on pushbikes.
650 days since our departure and over 12,000km cycled, the journey has shaped us into activists about many global issues. Our experiences on the road and work for Help Refugees have transformed the way we see ourselves, other human beings, global politics and planet earth.
We have become more passionate humanitarian activists through experiencing the work that Help Refugees does every day. I was horrified by the daily reality for, and treatment of, displaced people – by the public, the media, governments and border authorities. Our time spent volunteering with the organisation in Calais and Athens opened our eyes to the devastating global scale of the issue and the immensely important support that the charity provides.
Considering that Calais and Dunkirk had completely slipped from the UK news agenda, since the demolition of the ‘Jungle’, I was amazed that there are still thousands of people attempting to survive there. The charity team on the ground estimates that, at the time of writing, there are almost 2,000 people living in the forests in Northern France. At least 200 of which are unaccompanied children. While we were there, Help Refugees, Refugee Community Kitchen, Refugee Youth Service and L’Auberge des Migrants, were the only support systems in place for these displaced people. We were the only charities feeding, clothing and providing all basic support.
Interestingly, humanitarian aid has not been the only issue that we have become more aware of and vehement about. New global issues have become apparent to us throughout our journey, which we now feel strongly about shedding light on.
Throughout our time in Albania, I was shocked by the cruel maltreatment of animals and monumental plastic pollution on beautiful stretches of coastline. In Turkey, huge areas of land had been desolated by man’s greedy, agricultural hand, resulting in desertification and destruction of nearly all biodiversity. In northern India, the overpopulation of Delhi, the extreme poverty and the gargantuan waste management issues were sobering to say the least. These realisations have stoked the fire of our activist bellies and the experiences of these global problems first-hand, will remain with us forever and continue to shape the decisions we make in future life.
Back to over a year ago, when we were pondering the initial ideas for the trip, we doubted our ability to complete such a challenge and make any difference at all.
I know so many people who feel stressed and disempowered by politics and social media. I remember being paralysed by my feeling of hopelessness before the trip.
When we began, I struggled with how uncomfortable life on the road can be and I kept asking myself; Am I strong enough? Do I care enough to keep going? But from my experience, I know that we can all do so much more than we think we are capable of.
Safety and comfort are still sorely missed luxuries for me but just as the ship is protected in the harbour, it doesn’t fulfil its purpose and show its power until sailed across the high seas. I realised that I must be willing to experience discomfort and face the possibility of failure in the attempt of big dreams. It’s scary to admit that you care profoundly about something; it’s scarier still to try and do something about it.
It is so important that people begin to realise that as individuals or in small groups, we can make big change happen. It may start with seemingly insignificant personal choices such as buying a different product or clothing brand that supports our ethics, using less plastic, reducing our use of animal based products or volunteering some time at a local shelter or aid-group. All of these things that begin as small, simple acts, become the doorway into a greater awareness of how we live our lives and the impact and power that we command.
This is the most exciting thing to learn; you are the change you want to see in the world.
Even if you don’t see it yet. It is right here within you everyday. How you choose to spend your time and the choices you make. It is all your power.
For the New Delhi to New Zealand leg of the journey, which may be the next year of our lives, our aims are only a little altered from before. We have enough experience and so little money now, that we have to find as much free-fun on the road as possible. We will be camping, staying with lots of Warm Showers and Couchsurfing hosts and spending as little as possible each day.
We still have the aim of being as kind to people and animals as possible, we try to use our water filter as much as possible to avoid using plastic water bottles and we leave no trace of our presence once leaving a camp spot. These may seem like small acts but they gradually accumulate into a much larger impact while long-term-travelling.
We have realised from the first year of the cycle, that we must dedicate time and effort to maintaining our relationship while being on the road, which can be a challenge due to the intensity of our lifestyle. There are the everyday realities of deep tiredness, excessive grubbiness, colossal quantities of decision making each day – whose outcomes, ultimately, we both have to agree on – and stressful situations presenting themselves regularly. On top of this, we are constantly together, 24 hours a day, every day, which ironically leaves few opportunities to be romantic.
On our return, we know we will still be activists about the issues of which we have become aware, in whatever way our lives progress. Haydn would love to expand on his portrait project from Athens and continue in the vain of documentary photography and film. I would like to write a book about our experiences on the road from a global activist perspective, in conjunction with mental health and womanhood.
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Everywhere we have travelled, the kindness of people has been the saving grace to our harsh, unfiltered look at humanity. I have realised through this generosity that sometimes that is enough, just to be kind to each other, seeing no division due to skin colour, religion or place of birth. We may still find ways to exist peacefully and sustainably on this beautiful, finite planet. All that is needed is the courage to find what you care about and begin to act from there.
The smallest of beginnings can lead to changes you could never have imagined.
You can help our project to grow and evolve by visiting our website, donating any amount to the charity on our fundraising page, following our journey on Instagram and Facebook or even better, setting up your own fundraiser, no matter how small! It all counts towards the bigger mission and the activism of caring.