BIKING FOR BOOKS

Braving the hurdles to provide reading materials for under-privileged children in slum areas 

NB: I’m running this story here because this year (2013), Anoop Singh Jabbal would like to cycle from Nairobi, Kenya to Maputo, Mozambique. The trip will benefit The Kenyatta National Hospital Children’s Cancer Ward in Kenya. He is currently looking for sponsors or supporters. To contact him email pinkcycles2005@yahoo.com

Tour De Dar 2011

Motorbike mechanic and cyclist Anoop Singh Jabbal aka Pinky, set out on a journey that would take him approximately seven days. He was ready to cycle from Nairobi, Kenya to Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania-a 1,000 kilometer journey all alone on his hybrid bicycle.Image

This was in July 2011. His mission? To help raise money for Kale Children’s Library in Riruta Location, Nairobi. All he had for luggage was a ten-kilogram bag of clothes. In preparation, he carbo-loaded-feeding on plenty of carbohydrates two months before the tour. Anoop also focused on endurance cycling doing six to seven hours a day (even going out of town) on the weekends. He serviced his bike and built up on mental strength and self-confidence.

But why set out on such a journey by himself? “Initially, the plan was for me and two other cyclists to do it together. They pulled-out only days before on realizing how taxing the journey would actually be,” he explains. Owing to the burning need to help children access books outside class, Anoop decided not to cancel the trip and do it alone anyway.

He knew it would be challenging from the onset. To begin with, he was on a seven-day schedule, meaning he’d have to cycle six to seven hours a day. A myriad other challenges came up along the way. “On my way to Mombo, Tanzania, on day four, I almost got bitten by a black snake. I also had two punctures on the way. On day six, I had terrible food-poisoning after a rice and stew meal in Segera, Tanzania. It took me a whole day to recover,” he recalls.

Anoop also had to be careful about accommodation, having to stop only at places with the facilities. “In Mombo, Tanzania, I couldn’t find a place to spend the night as the hotels were fully booked. It was sheer courtesy that I was offered a tent and campsite at a local river lodge,” he says.

Anoop and his cycling mates had initially settled on the Dar-es-Salaam trip because they were looking for a place that would be a little bit of a challenge, sprinkled with adventure. “We wanted to have fun with purpose,” he points out excitedly.

This trip will remain embedded in his memory. “The scenery was breathtaking all the way. I still see the Pare and Usambara Mountains, the sisal plantations stealing across the horizons and the friendly people,” he clarifies with a smile that gets my imagination running.

Besides managing to raise books and money before and after the tour, Anoop carries with him a few lessons from the tour. “I learnt how to communicate with people of different cultures and how to tackle challenging events in life. When you are on the road by yourself, you also have the time to think about life and improving yourself. I believe I came back a better and more confident man,” he says.

Journey to Isiolo     

Across the country at the same time, Toto Chipeta, co-ordinator and founder of Kale Childrens’ Library and his fifty-five year-old American friend Kim Deprenger were cycling from Nairobi to isiolo, a journey covering approximately 450 kilometres. “Instead of using the highway, we used the back routes because we also wanted to experience the cultures and sounds of the local community. We completed the tour in fourteen days,” Toto explains.

Just like Anoop, Toto and Kim also bumped into many a-difficulties. “It was a very long tough journey laced with travelers diarrhoea, butt-numbness and saddle-rashes,’’ he summarizes.

Toto and Kim’s goal was to raise $ 5,000, but they managed to raise $800. “We realized that people were very skeptical because they didn’t know us. We had to do a lot of convincing and we had people calling us up later asking how they could donate,” he shares.

The connection    

Cycling to raise awareness about or for a cause is popular in many parts of the world. Compared to walking or running, cycling covers more ground. It is also less expensive that driving, which is also used for publicity.

The first Biking for Books took place in December 2008 when Anoop, Toto and Amrital Singh cycled from Nairobi to Mombasa (about 500 kilometres) in three days. Back then, they were able to raise Ksh. 64,000. “We used the money to build the library which has been running as is for years now,” Toto points out. Some of the supporters then were the Y.M.C.A, RYA (Ramgharia Youth Association), Cycle Land, Rotary Club and Plaza Beach Hotel.

The 2011 Tour De Dar and the journey to Isiolo were the second in the Biking for Books project. “We are still accepting books and sometimes cycle to collect them from well-wishers ourselves,’ Toto says.

For the next Biking for Books, Toto would like to get people who’d like to cycle (even if they aren’t professionals or fit) and take them on bike-rides.  “ We are still working on destinations, but the idea is to divide the journey into bits so that people can choose what suits them,” he adds.

The beneficiaries

ImageKale Childrens’ Library was established in 2009 and is registered as a self-help group. Situated in Riruta Location, Nairobi, its aim is to provide reading materials for under-privileged children in slum areas. Children in such areas have little or no access to reading (and learning) material outside of class. The library is open from 10 a.m to 8.30 p.m. daily and for only Ksh. 10, children can stay as long as they like.

“Parents want their children to stay at the library all day. For this to happen, the entire experience has to be fun. That’s why I introduced the Art & the Chess Club,” Toto informs me. The Art Club is fairly new, but Toto has already managed to source for markers and crayons for the children to express themselves when they need a break. Children interested in chess are also taught how to play the game. The library hosts the Rotary Chess Championship (sponsored by the Rotary Club) thrice a year.Image

Besides the Ksh. 10 charged to use the library, a fee of Ksh. 400 a year or Ksh. 20 a day is charged when you borrow a book. The library is currently 75% sustainable, but Toto says more sponsors and donations are needed. “Our objective for the future is to expand the library, purchase more books and introduce other media,” he clarifies.

The library is named for Toto’s best- friend, who has since passed on. Kale made it possible for Toto to complete his Diploma in Community Development and Social Work and this is Toto’s way of saying thank you. ‘It was the first unselfish thing I ever did,” Toto believes.

Running the library has taught him the need to be strong in faith when dealing with the community. “For something like this to keep going, you have to do it all for the love of the children. I have also learnt not to expect  ‘thank yous’, Toto adds.

But ‘thank yous’ come in the most unusual ways. On the wall of the library hangs a picture drawn by 12 year old Felix Namdee. Obviously, Felix drew a picture of Toto Chipeta himself, cycling.

 

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