Cycling 3600km from Athens to Amsterdam for The Zuri Project and Herbert!

I’ve been back home in sunny Lancashire for almost a fortnight since finishing what was the most difficult challenge I’ve ever done. Cycling 3600km in 47 days through 10 countries on a second-hand bike I bought for £80 sounds like something you would watch on one of these adventurer documentaries, and to be honest, the highs and lows from the trip could probably fill an hour or two of National Geographic air-time.

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It still hasn’t sunk in that I’ve done it. The challenge was just a little idea that popped into my crazy brain before drifting off to sleep one night early in February, and by April, I was in Athens with a mixed bag of emotions that only compares to the first day of High School. Now that I am writing this, it’s the first time I am looking back through the photos since I finished and I can honestly say it was both the best and worst adventure I’ve ever been on. It had incredible moments of pure bliss almost like meditative cycling, taking in every view, to demoralising lows of having a bent wheel on day 2, having my bags stolen in Croatia half way through, being alone and away from friends and family for so long, wild camping, puncture after puncture etc. But it’s moments like… making best friends with a little puppy that slept in my tent and followed me around, or local children giving you a drink of water or sweets to push you on after a hard hill, or cycling with a smile on your face knowing that this is going to change peoples lifes, or knowing that this was my way of paying my respects to my best friend and our leader, Herbert Niwagaba, that made it worth it. What a journey.

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There were a lot of times that I questioned whether I could do it or whether I had bitten off more than I could chew. There were moments when I thought I wouldn’t be able to do it, especially during the first two weeks of hill after hill after hill. But I have to say, for me, it would have been harder to quit that carry on; and now that I have finished I can say it’s incredible to realise what you can do when you put your mind, efforts and energy into something you are passionate about… And I’m talking about the Zuri Project and Herbert, not cycling. I don’t really like cycling.

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The challenge managed to raise over £2500 in total and everyone at the Zuri Project just wants to thank every single one of you for your support. Now that I am sat here on a soft bed, back home having raised this huge amount, I can say the pain, chaffage and lows were totally worth it. This is going to go a huge way to completing the single largest project that we as a charity have supported; in the completion of the first ever Secondary School in the community.

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The support was overwhelming on the cycle, you all pushed me on and were with me every hill, every km. And the ‘Hens 2 Amsterdam’ laughs were getting me through some tough times. But I have to say, whilst I was putting in the effort on a painful 10cm seat for just shy of 50 days, it’s Ross that works tirelessly, as always, without recognition, behind the scenes on co-implementation and co-designing how the funds will be going to give the opportunity of education to hundreds of children, eager to attend school and learn. It’s his dedication and also that of the Team out in Uganda that ensures The Zuri Project continues to support the projects. To be honest, it wasn’t just the news of how much had been raised that kept me going during the cycle, it was also the exciting updates that I got from Ross every few days on how the funds are going to make a difference in the community where we work that got me through weeks of rain, 10 hours of cycling a day and weeks of chaffage. And now that I have finished it is really exciting to see what’s next for The Zuri Project Uganda! Especially with the Zuri Cafe and our ventures into coffee, along with the Summer Ball and 3 Peak’s in 12 hours challenge fundraisers on the horizon, so stay tuned.

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I would just like to say a final thank you on behalf of myself, Ross and the whole Zuri team both in the UK, Australia and of course in Uganda! We couldn’t do it without you.

So, I really hope you enjoyed following the cycle and now I hope you are just as excited as we are to follow the completion of the Secondary School!

Thank you,

Martin.

The cycle was dedicated to my brother, my best friend and Zuri Project Leader Herbert Niwagaba.

May his legacy continue.

Together we can make a difference!

If you would like to donate, you can still do so via this link… https://cafdonate.cafonline.org/6164

If you would like to check out the blog I wrote during the cycle here it is… Athenstoamsterdamblog.wordpress.com

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Celebrating the past to build our future

It was just over a month ago that we first heard the devastating news of Herbert’s death. Although we’ve had time to grieve and come to terms with the loss, it’s still difficult to imagine the future of The Zuri Project and Opportunity Africa without Herbert. He meant everything to us all. Our tribute to Herbert, which was read out at his funeral by the reverend, is below for those of you who haven’t read it:

Yesterday, we lost our brother. Our leader. Our inspiration.

The tragic passing of Herbert Niwagaba has broken our hearts and created a chasm that will never be filled.

We will be forever indebted to Herbert for everything he has achieved, for every relationship he has built and for every life he has touched. His contribution to the world around him has been immense, he has changed lives, created opportunities and enriched people’s futures.

Above all else, we are eternally grateful. We are grateful to have known a man whose humility, selflessness and compassion knew no bounds. Grateful to have shared some wonderful times, to have laughed together, to have cried together, to have dreamed together.

It is now our responsibility to build upon Herbert’s legacy, to celebrate his remarkable achievements and to be inspired by a man who made the world a better place. May Herbert now rest in peace, assured that together, we made a difference, and that he will remain forever in our hearts.

Until we meet again, brother.

Webare munonga sebo.

Ross and Martin x

 

It was because of the depth of our relationship with Herbert, that Danielle and I decided to travel to Uganda earlier this month to spend time with Herbert’s family, and to pay our respects to his friends and to the community that meant so much to him. In spite of the circumstances, it was wonderful to see so many familiar faces and to spend time with people who have grown to become like family over the past few years. We cherished our time with Sarah and the children in particular, sharing our memories and celebrating how much Herbert was able to achieve throughout his short life.

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It was also great to spend time with the Opportunity Africa team and to visit all of the projects that we’ve been supporting in Kihembe recently. We had a number of meetings, discussing predominantly what the future might have in store, and looking at ways in which Opportunity Africa can continue delivering projects that will have a positive impact in their community. We were completely overwhelmed by the commitment and determination shown by the team to continue with the projects and to plan for the future. We’re confident that Opportunity Africa, led now by Elly, Monica, Job, Mercy and Bright, will do Herbert proud and collectively, will continue to create lasting positive change in Kihembe.

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In the UK, we are as determined and resolute as ever, and if anything, our fundraising efforts will intensify. As I write, Martin is 350km into an epic 3500km bike ride across Europe, for which you can sponsor him here. We also have a number of events planned throughout the year and if you would like to support us by arranging an event at work or with your friends and family, then please do get in touch.

We thank Herbert for what he started and for the memories that we cherish. We now must ensure that we continue his work, and ensure his legacy is fulfilled.

Ross x

 

Cycling 3600km from Athens to Amsterdam for The Zuri Project Uganda!

Hello. I’m Martin Hewell, 26, from Lancashire and the Co-Founder of The Zuri Project Uganda.

Starting on the 22nd April, I will be independently cycling approximately 3600km from Athens to Amsterdam to fundraise for the locally led development projects that we support in South West Uganda that tackle multi-dimensional poverty, malnutrition, food insecurity, access to health care, education and sport opportunities plus many more.

Athens to Amsterdam

I guess I’ve always been slightly adventurous; embracing the unknown rather than fearing it and having an innate ability to respond to any of the adventurous ideas that arise in my head with, “why not?”. Therefore, it’s not surprising that my insatiable appetite to explore has led me to a number of unusual, unforgettable experiences over the years and now to this epic cycling challenge.

Despite taking on some random, or you could say life changing, challenges over the last few years (mainly referring to listening to James Blunt’s Goodbye my lover on repeat for hours in a 50 degrees tent in Zambia), I have to say this has to be the toughest challenge I’ve ever planned. I haven’t done a solo challenge before and I’ve always wanted to take on a fundraiser that will make a difference…  and not just a difference to my backside and the way I walk in the future… but a difference to a community in which I’ve lived and to a cause where I know that the money will have a significant impact on the lives of thousands of people less fortunate than ourselves.

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“You’re crazy”, “You are a niche guy” and “Oh… Wow. You’ve actually managed to ‘out do yourself’ again!” are not uncommon replies when people hear about my trip. And I don’t think it’s actually sunk in yet what I’m about to take on. Anyway, people have asked whether I am ready? Good question… Well, I am not a cyclist for a start. The furthest I’ve ever cycled is 25 miles. I only bought a bike last week. I’m currently in the process of buying all the gear… the revealing Peter Pan tights, the bright green reflective tops that accentuate my eyes and my new best friend aka my padded seat, so, yeah, you could say I’m almost ready.

The route… To be honest I haven’t planned every single little detail. I like to go with the flow and make decisions based on how I feel. Plus, there are many factors to consider like weather, road conditions, bike condition, energy levels etc. And I guess it all depends on how fast my little legs can cycle and also the status of my backside. But what I do know is that the overview of my route will take me through 10 countries. I will head north from Greece, into Albania, then along the coast of Montenegro, briefly pass through Bosnia and Herzegovina, onto a tough, lengthy climb through Croatia, through to Slovenia, then over the Eastern Alps in Austria, heading West across the South of Germany, touching the North East of Belgium and then onto the last stretch into Amsterdam in The Netherlands. In terms of duration, I plan to cycle on average about 60 – 100 km a day depending on the gradient and head winds, so it should take around 50 days. But I am hoping to attain some extra motivation from you guys when I manage to get on the internet to see the donation cumulative total and also when my partner plans to visit me once or twice somewhere along the journey to bring me my beloved cereal and Nutella.

About the charity…

In summary, The Zuri Project Uganda engages with local people to collaborate, co-design and implement development projects that the community feel are most needed in a variety of areas such as sustainable agriculture, health, sport, education, nutrition, female sensitisation and income generating projects. Therefore, I hope that this challenge can raise over £2,000 towards these projects, and in particular, towards the construction and resourcing of the first ever Secondary School in the village and the resourcing of a deprived health centre. Thus far, I am not being sponsored (but hoping to be – so, if you know of anyone or any business that could be interested, then please get in touch), I am doing this alone on a very tight budget and it’s 50+ days of pain, so I really hope to hit, and surpass, the fundraising target money for a worthy cause, so please get involved in any way possible! Any support would be much appreciated from good luck messages to donations to sharing the blog to business sponsorship… Don’t be shy!

Naturally there will be some nerves about embarking on such a journey, especially as I will be cycling alone for the whole trip, wild camping in my tent, cooking my own food along the way and probably hating life wondering why I thought it would be a good idea to cram a lifetimes worth of cycling into 50 days all with a behind like a baboon; but to be honest, I am actually excited. I can’t wait to start a challenge that I know will push me to my limits physically and mentally. And more importantly, I can’t wait to see the difference the money raised will make. So, yeah, why not?!

I will try to give you an update of my progress, my mental wellbeing and my chaffage every few days via this blog, so don’t forget to follow.

If you would like to support my epic challenge and The Zuri Project Uganda, it would be much appreciated, and you can do so here… https://cafdonate.cafonline.org/6164

Thank you very much!

Martin.

To find out more about The Zuri Project Uganda check out the links below…

Website… http://www.zuriprojectuganda.org/

Facebook… https://www.facebook.com/Zuriproject

Twitter… https://twitter.com/zuriproject

Capacity Building with Opportunity Africa

Fundamental to our participatory ethos here at The Zuri Project is empowerment. We strive to ensure that every project that we support allows our partners in Uganda to take control of the whole project process, from planning to delivery, all the way through to evaluation. In order to achieve this, we believe that it’s incredibly important that all local stakeholders are involved in the process as much as is feasibly possible, and that the project outputs and objectives are clearly articulated and communicated at all times.

With this in mind, our in country team, led by Herbert Niwagaba of Opportunity Africa, delivered a one day capacity building session at Bwindi Cultural Centre*. The primary focus of the day was for Herbert to communicate the values and objectives of The Zuri Project & Opportunity Africa, to provide our new partners, staff and volunteers with an understanding of what we’re trying to achieve in collaboration with local people. The day provided people with a platform from which to ask questions about our work and to understand why we do things following a very specific participatory methodology.

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Some of the Opportunity Africa team after the training at Bwindi Cultural Centre.

Herbert spent lots of time listening to ideas about how our projects in Uganda could be improved, as well as considering ideas about how our partnerships could develop and grow. He also conducted a four plus one evaluation, listening to what people are pleased about, hearing any concerns about certain elements of our work, writing down what we’ve tried in relation to project delivery and evaluation and then thinking specifically about what we’ve learned about our processes so far, before agreeing on a number of SMART actions that together, we can take to improve our work in Uganda.

The day also presented Herbert with an opportunity to bring our Ugandan partners up to speed with the progress of our ongoing projects, and it coincided with the opening of the first secondary school in Kihembe; something that we’re immensely proud of and a project that I will be writing about in more depth in the weeks to come.

The feedback that we’ve received from the attendees of the capacity building day has been fantastic – people have said that they now feel more involved in our projects and have gained a greater appreciation of why The Zuri Project is different to many other INGOs they may have worked with in the past. In addition to our regular community led focus groups, through Opportunity Africa, we are committed to delivering capacity building workshops a couple of times each year, to ensure that community members feel truly empowered and valued.

From the very start of our journey as a charity, we’ve always said that we would be nothing without our in-country partners and the people who work tirelessly in Uganda to achieve positive outcomes for other members of their community. Two years in, we’re incredibly proud of the relationships that we’ve built and many of the outcomes that we’ve managed to achieve. But there’s still so much to be done, so much to be learned and so much to be improved.

Days like this help us to reach out to others and work together, to achieve positive outcomes with the people of Kihembe.

Ross

@rossoross

* We’re incredibly grateful to Canon Precious, owner of Bwindi Cultural Centre, for funding the day and offering his support to our work in Kihembe.

Meeting to plan for the future

Yesterday, Martin and I were delighted to join Herbert and 80 members of Kihembe community on a Skype call, to hear an update from community leaders about the progress of the secondary school project. Such is Herbert’s skill as a community mobiliser and facilitator, the meeting was attended by representatives and opinion leaders from each of the sixteen small villages that make up Kihembe.

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(Community members in attendance at the meeting)

Also in attendance was the chief administrative officer for Kanungu District, District Councillors from Kanyantorogo sub-county and a number of local councillors. The fundamental purpose of the meeting was for Herbert and the Opportunity Africa team to update the wider community on the progress being made at the secondary school site, and also to request their support and guidance to take the project forward in the coming years. The local leaders and councillors all agreed that the school should start in early February and that they will support the school’s application for a licence from the Ministry of Education. Moreover, the group pledged their financial support for the school project, and promised to donate one million UGX (£225) to provide scholastic materials and books for the classrooms.

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(Local leaders outside the secondary school building)

Yesterday’s meeting also marked the start of the recruitment and registration of students for the first school term. As of yesterday morning, 42 students were registered and the recruitment of teachers is also underway.

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(The secondary school structure, Jan 23rd 2017)

It means so much to all of us at The Zuri Project that the first secondary school in Kihembe has received community wide support. Herbert and the team in Uganda have done such a wonderful job so far in managing the project and ensuring that all of the work is carried out to the highest possible standard. We’re hoping that the building work will be finished by the end of January, and that the school can open its doors to the community in the weeks to follow.

Thank you all again for your support.

Ross.

@Rossoross

Kihembe Secondary School: A festive update

As many of you will be aware, since October, we have been supporting the build of the very first secondary school in Kihembe, a project that has been almost two years in the planning. In a catchment area of approximately 15,000 people, Kihembe currently has 6 primary schools but no secondary schools, with the nearest secondary school 10km away. With transport options limited, children who graduate from primary school very seldom make it to secondary school – an alarming reality that our partners in Uganda are urgently seeking to address.

Bearing this in mind, we have partnered with Opportunity Africa and Kihembe Development Association to support the build of Kihembe Vocational Secondary School. Much like the health centre project that we have recently completed, this project is an example of co-production in practice; we are collaborating with community members in a participatory, inclusive way, to achieve outcomes together that have been articulated by the community themselves. Our project plans outline a five phase process, three of which we have already completed. Phase one saw the community come together to fundraise and lay the literal foundations for the school, clearing the land that was donated by the government and doing the initial labour required to start the building work. A short video showing the community members coming together can be viewed here.

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(Work begins, October 2016)

Phase two, which was funded by The Zuri Project and The Rotary Clubs of Chorley Astley & Knowle and Dorridge, saw the initial structure being built up to the roof level. This phase was completed at the start of December, and you can see the current state of the structure in the pictures below. The third phase was funded by the community members thanks to mobilisation from Opportunity Africa, and has allowed three pit latrines to be dug and installed at the secondary school site, one for boys, one for girls and one for teachers. Going into the Christmas period, we are absolutely thrilled to have the shell of the secondary school completed, with ambitious plans in place to complete the building work by the end of February!

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(The start of phase two, November 2016)

Whilst this project is community led, it wouldn’t be possible without the incredibly generous support of our donors from The Rotary Club, DGCOS & HIES and also our passionate and dedicated team of volunteers, who help us to arrange fundraising events throughout the year. We had a wonderful time at our pub quiz last week, raising over £500 to contribute to phase four of the secondary school project. As it’s Christmas, we would like to take this opportunity to thank you all sincerely for your generosity and for the unconditional support that you give to our projects in Uganda. I hope you are as proud as we are of some of the wonderful things that we’ve achieved together in 2016, and are looking forward to what 2017 will bring.

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(The secondary school structure, December 2016)

From everyone at The Zuri Project, we wish you a joyous festive period and a prosperous New Year.

Ross @rossoross

Health Centre project: a note of thanks

As i’m sure you’re aware if you follow us on social media, we recently provided funding to build staff quarters at Kihembe Health Centre, to ensure that the hard working doctors and nurses have somewhere safe and comfortable to stay, so that they can provide vital health care and outreach support to the people of Kihembe. You can read more about this project here & here.

On completion of the project last month, we were privileged to receive a letter of thanks from Chris, one of the staff members at Kihembe Health Centre, which I have shared with you below. Without your financial support this project wouldn’t have been possible, so we thank you once again for your generosity. Here’s what Chris had to say about the new accommodation:

We, the staff at Kihembe HC, extend our sincere appreciation for the financial and spiritual support towards the completion of our staff quarters.

When we were posted at the facility, there was no accommodation for the staff and we slept in the ward in the facility with patients, which was uncomfortable for us. 

The Zuri Project, through Opportunity Africa, worked with our management team to achieve the desired goal of having comfortable and safe quarters for the staff. This has improved the performance and happiness of the staff, as in the past, our doctors and nurses often asked for a transfer to other facilities as there was nowhere for them to stay on site. 

The current staff, who witnessed the quarters being built, are now living on site. They no longer ask for transfers and our performance and the care we provide will improve greatly due to the new accommodation. 

Our pledge as staff is to maintain this partnership with The Zuri Project Uganda and to continue serving the people of the community of Kihembe at large. We will provide quality service and care to all people in the community and we will be accountable and transparent to all stakeholders. 

We extend our sincere thanks to The Zuri Project and Opportunity Africa, and our management team, for working tirelessly to complete the facility. 

God Bless you.

Akatwijuka Chris. 

Staff representative, Kihembe Health Centre II

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(Chris outside the new staff quarters)

We’re thrilled that we’ve been able to support this locally led project, and going forward, we’re excited to be planning other ways in which we can support the improvement of the health centre.

Ross.

@rossoross