Just Cycling for unaccompanied refugee children

Written by Nadia Baltazzi:

Two weekends ago I had a lucky escape from the Luzern rainy weather.  It felt crazy to go to London for sun, but after all, there was nothing usual in this -once in a lifetime- weekend!

It all started about six months ago.

Endre called me from Amsterdam: “I want to do something for the refugees” he said.

I asked him what I ask everyone. “What do you love doing?” I strongly believe that whatever is we love doing, can make a difference; it is only a matter of finding the way.

“I love cycling” he said “I will ride my bicycle to London and back to raise money. Maybe I can get a friend or two to join me. What do you think?” 

“I think it is crazy” I thought “and absolutely love it!”.

Well, since then, he has inspired not one, but 17 cyclists and 2 support staff, to form the amazing Just Cycling team. We come from 10 European countries, speak 12 languages and have a common goal: help the unaccompanied refugee children. As our borders were closing, we decided to come together from every corner of Europe, to meet in Amsterdam and all together cross the sea, go to London and come back, raising our voices in support of these children.

Our cause

Between June 2015-February 2016, more than 18,100 children travelling alone were reported to have crossed the borders. Meanwhile, Europe’s Criminal Intelligence Agency estimates that 10,000 unaccompanied refugee minors have gone missing in Europe since the beginning of this crisis.

The first three months of 2016, 1,329 unaccompanied children entered Greece. This is 4 times more than the corresponding period a year ago.  Unthinkable to us, they set off on this perilous journey on their own, in a desperate attempt of their parents to send them to safety. Others have been separated from their families on the road or have tragically lost their parents to boat accidents. A smaller, but increasing number of children, mostly traveling with relatives, are being abandoned by the adults accompanying them for lack of means to support them.

Around 450 children have found a proper shelter, about 1500 are on the waiting lists for one, currently hosted in police station cells (!) or in Camps without any special protection, exposed to trafficking networks and dangers of all sorts. Getting these children in appropriate shelters with special care, guardians, psychologists and social workers to protect them and help them start the healing process, is a matter of urgency.

It became a matter of high priority to us.

The ride: 470km in 69 hours

For months, the team trained hard to cover the 470km in just a long weekend. With rain or shine, at the gym, living rooms, the swimming pools, across Europe, our team was preparing physically and mentally for this great challenge. For most, this was the first time riding such a long distance and nobody had done that for four days in a row. We all stepped out off our comfort zones and challenged our limits for a common goal: to protect these children as we would want our children to be protected!

We set off on Friday afternoon from Amsterdam under an amazing sun and rolled down to Hoek Van Holland, about 100km, mostly on cycling routes, without any problems. As the team was getting tuned, timing was challenging. We arrived to dinner late, and made it to the ferry on the minute it was due to depart. We spent the night on the ferry and early in the morning set course for London. In contrast to Holland, the English countryside offered very few cycling roads and it was definitely not flat! Adding that to the fact that the team was already a bit tired from the day before and the weather was getting cooler, the second day felt more challenging than the first. Nothing a warm soup in a cozy countryside pub in Little Baddow could not fix though! With renewed energy and highly motivated, we set off for the last part covering a total of 150km in just one day.

After completing the first 250km there was an amazing feeling of accomplishment but also very soar muscles and the conviction that we will not all make the return trip.

The whole challenge felt like a game built in levels: the further you went, the more obstacles and challenges you faced. The next day we were to encounter face winds and possibly rain. Plans were made for shifts in the support cars and logistics to fit the bikes in the van. It was ok. We had achieved to come to London and we would take turns covering the return trip.

Something magical happened overnight however.

We woke up and everyone was there, ready to ride their bicycles. Tanked energy, motivated by the team spirit and with a great determination to make it, we started fresh. Everything that was coming our way- broken bikes, flat tires, missed roads- was being dealt with laughter and the spirit was more joyous every minute. The English countryside welcomed us and we passed through wonderful fields and beautiful little villages. We even got to help a stunned local in a remote road who had a bike breakdown. He never expected a 5* bicycle service in the middle of the road!

Everything was like a well tuned melody. The support cars were together with the team, there were jokes, and laughter and cheering and stops and food, and drink and deeply moving moments of the team coming together to help someone in difficulty. Life lessons and experiences that fill one’s heart and mind and soul. We all felt it and it brought us closer together and it brought us faster ahead. It was no longer about 19 people. It was about a team, on a mission, with a challenge, ready to break every goal set!

Hardly did we realize we were going so fast, we arrived at the ferry 4 hours early! A well deserved dinner, an overnight ferry, an onboard birthday celebration later, and another 85km, we reached Amsterdam on Monday early afternoon. 69 hours later, a total of 7423km later, 19.3 hours- almost three working days- on the bicycles.

We made it! 

The smiles on our faces reflected the feelings in our hearts: one team, doing what they love, carried the message 470km, raised funds to support new shelters, maintain the existing and keep more children safe.

If there is one thing this weekend taught me is that if you do what you love, you can move mountains!

Would you like to help?

Donate for the unaccompanied minors

Our initial goal was for a minimum €10’000. Receiving enthusiastic support from all over the world, we have now raised more than €15’000 and continue to rally for funds for new shelters and appropriate care for more children!

All the funds collected will support the work done to protect the unaccompanied minors all over Greece by two trusted, registered, organizations, METAdrasi and Kivotos/Arc of the World, that are already doing excellent work.

No travel expenses of Just Cycling, administrative or other expenses will be covered by donations.

Learn more and please consider donating on www.justcycling.ch

Contact us, tell us what you love doing, we could design a new project together!

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