Grandmothers ride for grandmothers

Grandmothers for Africa Cycle Tour takes to streets in a ride down Vancouver Island

Yvonne McLean

Thirty cyclists with an average age of 65, numerous hip and knee replacements and life-threatening illness between them, a journey of 275 kilometres and no complaints.

The Victoria Grandmothers for Africa Cycle Tour take their rubber to the road for their less-fortunate counterparts in Africa in September.

“(A total of 40-60 per cent of orphaned grandchildren in Africa are raised by their grandparents,” said race organizer Jocelyn Green.

“I have the benefit of living in this country with clear water, air and food. Grandmothers in Africa are caring for their grandchildren when their own children have died.”

The 64-year-old Saanich resident who hadn’t biked a combined 20 kilometres in her life before, created the tour after seeing the success of the Canadian Cancer Society’s Tour de Rock and believes if seniors in Africa can raise their grandchildren under the weight of poverty, cycling 275 kilometres was a small price to pay.

“I have seen the different grandparents raising their grandchildren with so little,” she said. “Anyone who is a grandparent realizes how precious these children are and how much care they need.”

Sixteen grandmothers banded together for the inaugural 2007 tour in the hopes of raising $100 each. To their surprise, they raised 10 times that, collecting $16,000 in nickels, dimes and small bills for the Stephen Lewis’s Grandmothers to Grandmothers campaign.

The local group has cumulatively raised more than $200,000 over the five tours and hopes the sixth annual trek takes them over the $250,000 mark.

“That money will go such a long, long way in Africa,” said rider Joanne Egan. “The poverty there is unbelievable. I have never witnessed anything like that.”

Making their 100-kilometre training trek every Monday morning is a small price to pay for the 63-year-old grandmother on her second tour.

The program donates 100 per cent of proceeds to the cause taking nothing for administration. In fact, Egan pays $220 to be a part of the trip on top of her own fundraising for the trip that rolls out of Rotary Park in Campbell River on Sept. 7, culminating with their arrival at St. John the Divine church in Victoria on Grandparent’s Day, Sept. 9 at 3 p.m.

Egan’s participation became more meaningful after seeing the poverty-stricken lifestyle first hand after she travelled to an orphanage in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia where her daughter adopted a 15-month-old child living in a small room packed with 10 other children.

“The trip changed my life. My need for things has diminished. We have so much and they have so little,” she said.

“The money will go such a long way in Africa. I have never witnessed anything like that before… I saw first hand how far our dollars will go in Africa there and they need help.”

Eagan’s new grandson, where he came from, and the African grandmothers struggling to push their bodies long enough to raise their grandchildren, is top of mind for the Sidney resident who ignores the aches and pains of her body knowing she is one of the fortunate ones.

“It is such a struggle for them, every day. I saw people with severe disabilities sleeping in metal boxes not much bigger than coffins,” she said.

“I feel so fortunate, I have healthy grandchildren, and I am certainly happy I don’t have to bring them up.”

For more information or to donate, please go online to bit.ly/VG4Acycle.