It is just over three years since The Big Bike Ride team (Matt, Lucy, Jake, Harry and I) completed our 700-mile cycle from Nakuru in Kenya to Dar es Salaam in Tanzania to raise funds for The Walk Centre.
It remains my favourite trip to Africa.
When I first set up African Adventures (or, for those of you who have been with us since the early days, Kenyan Adventure), one of the first community projects we began sending volunteers to was The Walk Centre.
Set up in 2005 by Alex (African Adventures’ East Africa Director) and Patricia Maina, The Walk Centre provides children living on the Hilton dumpsite in Nakuru with a safe place to learn and have a free lunchtime meal. It serves one of the poorest communities in town, where hundreds of families live below the international poverty line, and, back then, very few children from the community went to school.
The Walk Centre quickly became a success and, by 2010, 150 pupils were enrolled, with around 100 more returning each day at lunch for a free meal.
Thanks to African Adventures’ growing volunteer programme, and support from African Adventures Foundation and The Walk Centre UK (both registered charities), the school continued to blossom.
Fast forward to 2015 and those volunteering at The Walk Centre would have found a fantastic, small nursery school: bright classrooms, a large kitchen with energy-saving stoves to help deliver its huge feeding programme, a paved playground with swings and slides, an IT suite, an assembly room and a sewing class.
Still, Alex and Patricia had bigger dreams; they wanted to build a primary school opposite the nursery school classrooms, so that they could offer a full, free nursery-to-primary education to their community. The school would have capacity for over 350 students once full, and ensure that every child on the Hilton slum could go to school.
African Adventures teamed up with Chichester College, one of our longest standing partners, to take on the challenge of raising £82,000 to build the 10-classroom, two-storey block.
After a mix of fundraising events and a plethora of generous donations, the majority of the money was raised by early 2017, with £15,000 left to go. Given that it was going to be 10 years since I first visited The Walk Centre, I felt it was fitting to take on a challenge that would, if successful, help get the project over the line.
I managed to persuade Harry and Jake (two friends of mine) to join me. Matt and Lucy, both staff at Chichester College who had volunteered at The Walk Centre, jumped on their saddles shortly afterwards to complete The Big Bike Ride team.
We spent numerous evenings and weekends over the coming months peddling around Hampshire in preparation, and probably a similar amount of time off the saddle drumming up as much help as we could.
From Lufthansa subsidising the cost of flying our bikes to Kenya and back, to local companies sponsoring our cycling kits, everything was gaining momentum by the spring.
After a couple of final training weekends, we left the UK with a palpable sense of excitement.
The day after we arrived in Kenya, and with the school build nearly complete from funds already raised, Alex and Patricia held an opening ceremony, with students, parents, Chichester College volunteers and even the local MP in attendance. To see so many friends and colleagues together on such a special occasion is something that will stay with me a long time.
The following day, we set off from the front gates of The Walk Centre and were underway.
Ken – one of African Adventures’ Trip Hosts – Isaa and Francis were in our support van, and were an invaluable addition to the team, though the latter’s navigational skills left a lot to be desired, which became the source of a joke or two each evening!
We used hybrid bikes, which are heavier and more durable than road bikes, in anticipation of a few bumpy roads, and needed to cycle an average of 70 miles per day for 10 days to reach Tanzania’s most populous city.
We headed south for the first few days, through Naivasha and the Rift Valley, around the capital city, Nairobi, and onto Kajiado at the Kenya-Tanzania border. At Namanga, we headed east to Arusha, past the shadow of Mount Kilimanjaro before the final few days’ ride to the south east and eventually Dar es Salaam.
Whilst we had planned for the hills and prepared ourselves for the heat, we thought we had left the rain at home. However, we had no such luck, and had to cycle through some of the most torrential downpours and hailstorms I have ever seen. It was offset, admittedly, by some warm sunshine, but certainly added to the challenge!
One of my favourite parts of the evenings, aside from refuelling with huge meals, was reading the messages of support that were coming through from friends, family and volunteers, all wishing us good luck and donating towards our total. It made all the difference towards the end of the trip – particularly Day 9, which was one of the hardest.
We eventually raised £11,847, and The Walk Centre’s primary school opened in September 2017.
Three years on, I still cycle every week, though I tend to space the days out a little more now.
(In case you want to read a day-to-day diary of the ride, please visit https://bit.ly/3fOy3Gq.)