Saturday, August 16, 2014


Sierra Leone Ebola Outbreak: Help by Supporting Team Old Guys in Action in the CAUSE Canada Canmore Rocky Mountain Half Marathon Sept 7, 2014

As Bernie said in the very first Old Guys in Action blog post, “You can’t just sit there!” Bernie Potvin, Andrew Lawson, Pascia Birch, Steve  Crawford, Tim Rowe, Adam, Alexandra, Jon and Ross Weaver are joining together as Team Old Guys in Action to participate* in the CAUSE Canada Rocky Mountain Half Marathon and 10K Run. As a group we are committed to raising $5000 for CAUSE Canada’s efforts to stem the alarming growth of Ebola. CAUSE is uniquely positioned to intervene having worked in Sierra Leone for over 25 years, with knowledgeable staff on the ground and an effective strategy in place. Find out more www.cause.ca/ebolacrisis.
 All funds raised by Team Old Guys in Action at the Rocky Mountain Half Marathon will go directly to CAUSE’s Ebola Fund. Please help by donating through the Old Guys half marathon team page.
 
It's Personal! Most of the members of Team Old Guys in Action have visited Sierra Leone at least once and these have been life-transforming experiences. In 2011 Bernie Potvin with Jon and Ross Weaver cycled the 500KM “Tour de Sierra Leone”, raising funds for CAUSE Canada’s birthing hut program. Birthing huts target the horrendous rate of maternal mortality in Sierra Leone where at the time 1 in 8 women died in childbirth. Progress has been made and over a dozen birthing huts are in operation because your support. The birthing hut shown here with CAUSE Executive Director Bev Carrick has averaged 30 births per month for over 3 years including the twins shown in the picture below.

It is tragic that this country, devastated by war (1991-2002) and steadily progressing in the past decade is now the central focus of the Ebola outbreak. It is heart-rending that people we have come to know and love, CAUSE Kids that we support month after month, babies born in Old Guys birthing huts…their families and thousands more are now at risk from this incurable disease. Please help CAUSE Canada make a difference in this crisis by supporting Team Old Guys in Action in the Sept 7 run. Click Here to Donate!
*Note: Some team members cannot run in Canmore on Sept 7 but will complete their event where they are across Canada in the same timeframe.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Ken YA! 2014

 Four Really Good Reasons to Train Hard and Run FFFAAASSSTTT!!!
Alli
Leo
Buff

Dodo
















Three of the Old Guys will be travelling to Kenya in June to do trial runs and planning for the June 2015 900 Km Cross-Kenya relay run in support of Mully Children's Family. 
We can hardly wait! When we get back we'll pass on lots of information on the 2015 plans...so check back here this summer and book time to join us June 2015! Questions? Contact Info@oldguysinaction.ca. 

Friday, January 10, 2014

What a Dilly of a Dip! Thank YOU!

 

Few have dipped more times than Ron and none more dapperedly (except 'Breaker the Bear perhaps!) 

 


52 Dipsters on New Year’s Day
2 Double Dipsters
10 Distance Dipsters in the UK
2 Delayed Dipsters (Jumped Jan 11)
Many, many Wish They’d Dippedsters!

And generous people donated $75,000 for the wonderful work of the SA Foundation. THANK YOU!!!
 
The wonderful people at the SA Foundation are on the front line tackling horrendous issues associated with human trafficking in the global sex trade.
  • 15,000 women per year sold from villages in Nepal to brothels in India
  • Girls purchased from orphanages in Budapest and sold to markets around the world
  • Here in Canada the average age of recruitment into the sex trade is 13
The SA Foundation provides a home and recovery services to exploited women and their children in Vancouver, Budapest and Nepal and has been instrumental in establishing their programs in four other locations in North America.
 
Check out the Polar Dip and About SAFoundation tabs for details. And visit our new sister website: CalgaryIcebreaker.com for everything you wanted to know about jumping into freezing water in Canada in January!
 

 






Monday, November 11, 2013


What's New?
  • A new website: www.calgaryicebreaker.com
  • A new look and logo
  • A Distance Dip option: You don't have to be in Calgary or anywhere cold to participate!
  • The nice people at the Discovery Ridge Community Association have asked us to join them for a skate party at their new rink right after the Dip. Bring the family!
  • The nice people at Javino have invited us to warm up and fuel up any time after the Dip.
What's the Same?
  • Same date and place [Jan 1, 2014 1PM...Discovery Ridge Pond]
  • Our new mascot 'Breaker the Bear will be on hand to wow the crowd
  • It's still cold! [But the people are warm and friendly]
  • Same great reason to participate...to support the tremendous work of the SA (Servants Anonymous Foundation)
Follow us on Twitter (@Icebreak); Like us on Facebook (Calgary Icebreaker Polar Dip)

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Welcome to OldGuysInAction.com and CalgaryPolarBearPlunge.com!
Old Guys in Action was very proud to present the 4th Annual Calgary Polar Bear Plunge January 1, 2013. Plunge donors generously gave over $40,000 in support of our target charity, a wonderful organization, the Servants Anonymous Foundation and their work with victims of human trafficking. You can still give online at https://safoundation.com/make_a_donation/make-a-donation. Please indicate "2013 Polar Bear Plunge" in the comments area.
  • Check out the Polar Bear Plunge tab for more information, videos and pictures related to the plunge.
  • Check out the About SA Foundation tab for more information on the Servants Anonymous foundation.
  • Continue reading the Blog Entries (below) for stories related to the work of the SA Foundation in Canada, Hungary and Nepal...and stories from previous Old Guys in Action events.
  • Finally, explore other tabs on this site to find out more About Old Guys in Action, our other events and the other organizations we support.
Thanks for visiting and come back again soon!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Reason we're Freezin': A True Story from Canada Plunge or Pledge to Make a Difference

She was a beautiful First Nations woman but she didn’t realize that yet. When I first met Sherry (name changed) she was angry, broken and insecure. This was her second time in our recovery program. I wondered if she could stick it out.


You see, SA Foundation’s recovery program is not for the faint of heart. For someone with an addiction and used to living on the streets, our rules are tough! Curfews, dress code, no contact with former street friends and the hardest one of all...hours that run 9 AM to 5 PM! For those used to waking up in the afternoon and going to bed early in the morning this is a huge adjustment. Not only that but you are forced to look at your past, deal with your abuse and exploitation, forgive those who have hurt you. Who would want to do that?

I’ll tell you who. It’s women like Sherry who have hit rock bottom and are afraid for their lives! Afraid the next trick will be their last! Afraid they will be tomorrow's news. They come with nothing to lose and everything to gain!

Sherry stayed with me for one year in the frontline house. She was a blast to live with! Funny, witty, strong and yes so beautiful! I watched her blossom in that year. Together, we celebrated her first New Year's clean and sober.

This past year I celebrated 11 years clean and sober with Sherry! I’ve also had the privilege of watching her become a dedicated wife, a loving mother and a strong, compassionate...and very opinionated leader in the First Nations community! Sherry is a real role model for other Native youth and women in our program. It is women like Sherry that testify, “the SA programs works!”


Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Reason we're Freezin': A True Story from Hungary Plunge or Pledge to Make a Difference

Ilona was 16 years old when I first met her on stroll. Skinny, unkept and nervous, smoking a cigarette. Dark over-exaggerated make up covered her scared young eyes. 
Budapest at Night
Illona is just one of thousands of girls I’ve seen on the streets here in Budapest who was tricked into believing there was legitimate work waiting for her. Orphaned and living in poverty in Maldova she was an easy target for the pimps. Once across the borders, her documents were taken, she was beaten, starved and raped into accepting her new fate. If she ran, they told her, they’d just go and get her young sister. That was all it took.

 After a year on stroll, she still believed that someday she’d earn enough to buy her freedom and take care of her family. I knew better. The pimps would over-work her young body, making as much money off of her while they could.

Soon, her addiction would be out of control and her body too tired to work. Then, she’ll be thrown away and replaced by the next victim. This is the vicious cycle. I’ve seen it over and over again.  
 
The Hungarian team has reported that they do not know of ANY recovery programs for sexually exploited women in Hungary despite a large number of Hungarian women being exploited in and outside the country. This spring the SA Foundation Hungarian team will open the FIRST and ONLY long term recovery program for survivors of sexual exploitation and their children! As it is too dangerous to try and rescue women locally their focus will be to rescue and repatriate women being exploited in other European countries.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Reason we're Freezin': Nepal Part 2 (true story) Plunge or Pledge to Make a Difference!

Sumi couldn’t move. Her whole body felt numb. If she could just get up she would go home and tell her mom she was sorry for disobeying her and going to the movie theatre. But she couldn’t. As her eyes adjusted to the dark she saw several other Nepali girls, all in various stages of consciousness. In the corner a man and a woman were arguing. Then the man took a large stack of money and left.

Each one of the girls was taken roughly to a small closet and thrown in. What happened next and what would happen for the next 10 years for Sumi is indescribable. Imagine the most humiliating, violent, invasive torture that no woman or child should ever know about, never the less endure.

The rest of the story though is nothing short of a miracle. For 10 years Sumi and her mother prayed. Prayed for freedom. Then one day, Sumi jumped out of a five-storey window and ran for her life. She found a construction job in India to earn the $25 needed for a bus ticket home.

Upon returning to Nepal Sumi found her family had moved from their home! She was crushed! However, thanks to the kindness of her former landlord, she was able to track them down.

You can imagine the shock and joy of her poor mother when she saw her daughter walk back into the compound after a ten year absence! Of course, she could hardly recognize her daughter. The one she remembers was a bright eyed mischievous 14 year old. The one standing before her was extremely malnourished; her hair thin and dry, cigarette burns marked her arms and her eyes old and tired.
But they would deal with that later her mother thought.

For now she has her daughter back and they would celebrate today!

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Reason we're Freezin': Nepal Part 1 (a true story) Plunge or Pledge: Help women like Sumi! Please.

It was Sumi’s first time inside a real movie theatre! She was so excited despite a bit of guilt she felt for disobeying her mom to come here. Her mom just doesn’t understand she thought. All Sumi does all day is work hard cleaning other people’s messy homes and washing their dirty laundry. Then she gives every rupee she earns to her mom. This month she just withheld 50 Rs. (less than a dollar) so she could go and see the new Bollywood movie that everyone has been talking about.

The movie was starting. Sumi couldn’t wait to see Shahrukh Khan (the Indian version of Brad Pitt) on the big screen. Her friend handed her a pop and bag of popcorn. Sumi sat back and began to relax, enjoying a rare opportunity just to be a fourteen year old girl.
Photo: National Geographic
She didn’t know how long she’d been sleeping! Where was she? It took her a moment to remember where she was last. Did she actually fall asleep during her first movie? How could that have happened?
Her eyes adjusted to the dim light. Her friend was sitting across from her. There were two other men in the room that she’d never met before. “Where am I?” she asked her friend. “You fell asleep in the movie she said and afterwards we came to my friend’s house. Here, have a bite to eat and we’ll take you home.” Sumi protested. “What time is it? My mom will be worried sick! I have to get home. Please take me home!” “Oh sure, we will!” her friend smiled, “just have a little something to eat.”

The second time Sumi woke up her friend was gone. Her head throbbed and her body felt numb. Where was she? And why she couldn’t understand the language. If she could just clear the fog in her head and stand up she could go home but she couldn’t move.

Her friend had sold Sumi to a brothel in India.

To be continued...

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

BLACK and WHITE

The work of Servants Anonymous Foundation is BLACK and WHITE.



 
The subject matter is as BLACK as can be imagined. No, actually I can't imagine the life the young woman describes in the true story below. How can anyone, let alone close family, betray a trust in such a hideous way? And the "strangers"...

But it is WHITE. Because SAF cares for young women like this. Gives them real love. Gives them hope and new life.
 
Be part of the WHITE side of this story. Visit our Polar Bear Plunge tab. Make a difference. Please.
 
At 13 my aunt told my parents she had found a good job for me in the city. Instead, she sold me to a brothel where I was told I had to satisfy the dirty and violent perversions of strangers until I earned enough money to buy my freedom...I was starved, tortured and gang raped.



INSIDE I AM DEAD.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Jan 1, 2013 Polar Bear Plunge: Freezin' for a Reason!!!


It's official! The 2013 Polar Bear Plunge is ON!!!


We are very proud to be supporting Servants Anonymous Foundation's projects in Nepal, Hungary and Vancouver. The Nepal project tackles the horrendous reality that 10-15,000 young women per year are smuggled out of Nepal and sold into the sex trade...to brothels in India. SAF's Nepal Project is making an impact through village education and border monitoring. SAF cares for survivors of sexual exploitation in Nepal, Hungary and Vancouver, helping them to regain a life that has been so tragically marred.
Join us in supporting this Servants Anonymous Foundation. Check out the Polar Bear Plunges tab for more details.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

GO! Total Stranger, GO!

Way to go TEAM! All 16 Old Guys in Action runners successfully completed their races on May 27…and more importantly, helped in raising $16,000 (so far) for Mully Children’s Family. Thank you to donors who gave so generously to make a difference in the lives of former orphans and abandoned street kids in Kenya.

Amber, Kaelynn, Ryan and Liam: Well done! These kids put in the big KMs in the weeks leading to the Kid’s marathon, running the final KM on race day. What a great way to show you care for kids half way around the world in Kenya!
5 KM runners Ann, Gabe, Claire and Sophia; and 10 KM runners Sarah, Taegan, Jason and Dave: Thank you for your support and congratulations on races well run!
Marathoners on the team ranged from ultra-marathon veteran Nicki Rehn, to first-time marathoner Jon Kennard, to old and original Old Guys Bernie and Ross. Thank you all! Way to go!
Every runner has a story at the end of a race, especially a marathon. Our stories include cramps…lactic laced legs…chocolate gel packs leaking from running shorts (traumatizing nearby runners)...mantras of “it’s only pain, it’s only pain”…finding inspiration wherever it can be found to put one foot in front of the other, yet again.
I took inspiration from a sign I saw heading out at the beginning of the marathon…and again on the home stretch over 4 hours later. It read “Go! Total Stranger, Go!” The lady holding the sign was boisterously encouraging the runners over that whole period, as were hundreds of other cowbell ringing, noise-maker slapping, bubuzela blowing  supporters. They really did lift our spirits and helped us through the marathon mind-fog to keep going.
Just like the fans that lined the marathon route, all of us Old Guys runners and donors are fans of you, Charles and Esther Mully…and all 6000 of your kids! We love you! We think you have an amazing story. Each of you have overcome obstacles and have a wonderful bright future. We hope you are encouraged by our efforts in this race. “GO! Mully Family, GO!”

Monday, May 21, 2012

According to the Lycklamas “Everyone Should Have a Family”

Kaelynn, Amber and Ryan with parents Trina and Jason
The Lycklamas are an athletic family. Cycling, hiking, mountain climbing, hockey…and running! And the whole family are now officially Old Guys, supporting Mully Children’s Family in this weekend’s races.

Dad (Jason, AKA "the Machine") is running the 10K. Mom (Trina, a runner herself) will supervise Kaelynn (10), Ryan (7) and Amber (5) in running the Kids’ Marathon. The kids committed to running 41.2K in stages. They will run the final 1K along with the elite marathon runners on race day.

As a family, they’ve done an amazing job in fundraising for Mully Children's Family, home for thousands of former orphaned street kids. Thank you!

Why fundraise? Why run? According to the Lycklama kids, “Everyone should have a family and we should help those who don't have one to get into one."

Well put. Well done Lycklamas!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Calgary Ultra-marathon legend Nicki Rehn is an Old Guy!!!

Nicki is a nice lady...but a bit flighty!
I have always loved running.  It is the simplest form of adventure because all you need is a pair of shoes (or not even) and a place to explore.  I run for many reasons - for fitness, to compete, to explore new places, to push my limits, to decompress my day, to kick-start some creative process, to breathe fresh air, as a social occasion, as an excuse to travel, and for the pure pleasure of moving swiftly across some terrain.

I have done eight full marathons, two ironmans, eleven ultra-marathons (included one that was over 200 miles), fast-packed 1000 km across SW Australia, and represented Canada in long course triathlon.......and I feel like I'm just getting started! 

I choose to run for the Mully Children's Family because it is a way of bringing together my three great loves: Africa, education and running.  I spent four years living and working in West Africa and thus have a special connection to the continent and her people. And, at very my core, I am an educator. 

It a pleasure to support and represent this organization at the Calgary Marathon in 2012 by becoming an "Old Guy". Click here to sponsor our team and support Mully Children's Family!

Marathon Instructions: Put one foot in front of the other. Repeat 100,000 times!!!

Ross and Mini-Mully at Yatta, Kenya in 2010
Over the past 23 years, Charles and Esther Mulli have adopted over 6,000 kids! They currently have over 2,000 in their care...and Charles knows them all by name. Back in 2008 Bernie invited me to hear Charles talk here in Calgary. His story impressed me so much that I remember saying to Bernie on the way home, "We need to do something to help Charles in his work...I know, let's do a fundraising run across Kenya. To which Bernie replied, "Absolutely...I'm in! How far is it across Kenya, anyway?"

Turns out it is about 1000 KM. We've been training and planning ever since. The Calgary marathon is an important milestone along the way. After all, we need to be able to do this marathon without expiring if we ever hope to do over 4 marathons a week for over a month by 2014.

Thanks for your support and thanks to all the other Old Guys in Action: Team Mully Children's Family 2012 Calgary Marathon team members. One foot in front of the other...repeat (100,000 times!) Click here to donate through the Calgary marathon website!

Friday, May 4, 2012

Got to love these kids!

Two of the 2,000+ children currently under the loving care of Mully Children's Family. Bernie, Ross and Claire toured this home in Yatta in 2010 and were so impressed with the facilities, staff and programs. Water catchment basins and pipelines to assure clean water for drinking and agriculture, education and training facilities, reforestation and greenhouses...and so much more. But it was the tragic, yet heart-warming stories that made such an impression. Many of those cared for at Yatta are women who have escaped the sex trade with the help of MCF. They are being trained in a variety of trades that will put them on a new and positive track in life. Their children are fed, schooled, given medical attention and a real chance to blossom with positive role models. Their future is bright.

Thanks to those who are sponsoring Old Guys in Action: Team Mully Children's family in the May 27 Calgary marathon! If you haven't given yet, we'd love your support...All funds raised goes to Mully Children's Family and will make a real difference! DONATE NOW!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Old Guys in Action: Team Mulli at the Calgary Marathon. Join us and Run for a Reason!

Old Guys in Action is sponsoring Team Mulli in this year's Calgary Marathon. As a (soon to be) official charity at the May 27, 2012 event we would love you to join us in running the full or half marathon, 10K, 5K or...get your kids involved in running the Kids' marathon.

Runners will be asked to help raise funds for Mulli Children's Family, an inspirational family of over 6,000 ex-street kids, former prostitutes and aids orphans founded over 20 years ago by Dr. Charles Mulli. His is one of the most compelling stories of our generation (check out the "About Mulli" tab for more info).

Want to run? Stay tuned. As an official charity, Team Mulli runners can register at special discounted rates. Details to follow, but send us an e-mail at info@oldguysinaction.ca to let us know you are interested.

Want to sponsor a runner? We'll let you know how in upcoming posts. Thanks!

Winter Training in Calgary. Got to love it!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Plunge was Brrrrr-ific!

Thanks to the 23 hearty souls that jumped in the third annual Polar Bear Plunge...more than doubling the number of plungers from last year. Thanks also to:
  • Sponsors and donors who helped in raising close to $6000 for Mulli Childrens Family in Kenya
  • Dave and Javino for hosting to post-plunge party
  • Volunteers who helped to set-up, take down, film, canvas and count the proceeds
  • Shelley, our tireless Communications Director who coordinated communications, promotion and media contacts for this year's event.
Ron Isaac: Ice Fishin' in Style.
 MORE PICS ARE POSTED ON THE POLAR BEAR PLUNGES TAB
Got MORE pictures? Send them to us, we'll post them in the PBP Archives.
Bigger and better next year! Mark January 1, 2013 in your calendars. Spread the word. There must be thousands out there who are chomping to have the chance to chill for charity.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Update: December 10, 2011

Welcome and congratulations to brave volunteers who will be "taking the plunge" on New Year's Day!
Ross Weaver, Adam Weaver, Alexandra Weaver, Bernie Potvin, James Potvin, Gabe Potvin, Kate Larose, Colin Scheer, Karen Lalonde, David Wayne, Grace Corry, Ron Isaac, Preston Fabbi and Jason Lycklama.
More to follow in the coming days.


Follow us on Facebook:  www.facebook.com/oldguysinaction  for details, videos, photos and more

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Do You Dare to Bare???!!!

3rd Annual Polar Bear Plunge! January 1, 2012 2:30PM

We're at it again!

Where? Pond above waterfalls, behind 329 Discovery Ridge Blvd
Why?     To raise money for Mully Children’s Family: Home of over 2000 orphans rescued from urban slums in Kenya. Pledges welcome and tax receiptable.
  
Can I Plunge?   Can I Watch?    Can I Donate?

   
Yes! Yes! Yes! Details to follow soon!

At age 6 Charles Mulli woke in his Kenyan village hut to discover his parents had abandoned him.  He went from hut to hut begging for food and scraped out a meagre existence. After years of struggle, Charles worked his way out of poverty, married, raised a family and excelled in business, becoming one of the most successful entrepreneurs in Kenya. At the height of his career, Charles felt convicted to give away all his resources to help street children from slums in Kenya. Twenty years later, Charles and Esther Mulli, their biological children and MCF staff have rescued over 6,000 street children from lives of abuse, addiction and abandonment. www.mcfcf.org (Cdn Foundation) or http://www.mullychildrensfamily.org/.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Tɛnki, Tɛnki!

The Old Guys are home safe and sound!
We’ve had about a week to reflect on the amazing experience that was
the CAUSE Canada Tour de Sierra Leone.
Here are a few of our thoughts as we process the experience.
1. First, we are tremendously grateful to you (and about 150 others like you) who recognized the need and responded to the opportunity to make a difference to many thousands of women and their families in Sierra Leone. We are truly humbled by the response and support you have provided. At time of writing we were within a few thousand dollars of our stretch $50,000 goal…and have every expectation this target will be exceeded. Thank you so much! 


2. The birthing hut program will make a difference. We saw these huts in operation and met some of the Maternal Child Heath Care Attendants. The huts are well constructed and equipped. The attendants are dedicated and trained. On average 25 at-risk women use the services of each of these facilities on a monthly basis. At over 250 women per hut per year, times the 12-15 that will be built because of this initiative, over 3000 women will have dramatically higher chances of surviving and thriving through childbirth…each year. 


What’s more, CAUSE Canada has applied for matching grants for the funding provided through the Old Guys in Action initiative. We anticipate that your donation will be matched on a 3:1 basis. This means your donation will make three times what is already a very significant impact!


3. The issues that led to Sierra Leone having the highest maternal mortality rate in the world (1 in 8, versus 1 in 11,000 in Canada), are complex. They are the product of history, culture, war, poverty and other factors. Birthing huts on their own will make a big difference, but we applaud holistic approach we witnessed that CAUSE Canada is taking involving education, women’s literacy and empowerment, nutrition and health training, agriculture, clean water and micro-enterprise. CAUSE’s long-term commitment with its national staff and community leadership and involvement are having a sustainable impact. 


At a more macro level, we were encouraged to see an increased level of economic activity, investment in infrastructure, and focus on local and national governance that bodes well for the future of the country. At the airport as we were leaving the country, Paul Carrick, CAUSE Canada Founder ran into a former CAUSE national staff worker. He had worked for CAUSE at a refugee camp after the war and honed his leadership abilities to the point that he was subsequently hired by the UN in Sierra Leone. Fast forward…this gentleman has since earned a PhD from England and holds a leadership position with the UN with responsibilities in other countries in Africa. A good news story where investment in good people at the local level by CAUSE Canada is having a significant international impact.


The purpose of Old Guys in Action is to provide opportunities to Learn, Engage, Network and Support best-in-class organizations working to address complex development issues. CAUSE Canada is such an organization. We feel privileged to have partnered with them on the Tour de Sierra Leone, and we encourage you to continue supporting CAUSE Canada on an ongoing basis.


On behalf of “Old Guys” Jon, Bernie and Ross, 
CAUSE Canada staff in Canada and in Sierra Leone 
and the many thousands of beneficiaries of your generosity…
as they say in Krio…
Tɛnki, Tɛnki!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

May 14

Well, today is a very big day and it represents many things.  If all goes according to plan, it will be the end of the big ride, the fulfilling of our commitment to the donors to actually ride the 500 km, the proof that it can be done and that we Old Guys can do it.

With the aid of Ross' satellite-linked watch, we have taken great care to keep an accurate account of the distance we have cycled.  As of this morning, Bernie still needs 14 km (in addition to today's Freetown ride) to get his 500 km in. Ross has money business to tend to with Oumar this morning, so I ride out with Bernie through the highway construction zone to the land o' puddles and back to make up the difference.

When we return, we pack the bikes onto the pickup truck and head to the start of the procession.  On the way there, the mood is of anticipation and excitement, mixed with the melancholic disbelief that this is really it.  After this ceremonial ride, it's over.  No more slugging it out over mile after mile of dusty red dirt roads, washboard, sand, bedrock and puddles, drinking gallons of water and
dozens of mangoes and protein bars and trying to stave off dehydration and heat prostration.


We arrive at the start of the ride: a beautiful, long stretch of white sand beach that runs for kilometres.  We saddle up and ride, escorted by the CAUSE Canada vehicles, Sierra Leone national television and other media along the beach road and through the streets of Freetown. Don't get me wrong.  This is a modest event - one that attracted little attention on the street, but we take advantage of the protection of our entourage to ride three abreast and ham it up a
little for the cameraman in the truck ahead of us.
The ride ends humbly at the hotel we are to stay at tonight, but the occasion calls for speeches and interviews for the media, thank-yous to all who made the Tour possible and an announcement by CAUSE's Sierra Leone Country Director, Mr. Arthur Cummings:  The Tour de Sierra Leone will become an annual event!


The bikes we have become so attached to over the past 14 days [ha ha] will now be put into duty in various CAUSE purposes around the country.  So, I take a last look at the front tire that I have watched spinning countless revolutions (ok, so I had to do the math - roughly 115,000 revolutions) through this journey.

So, the Tour de Sierra Leone has come to an end.  At the same time, according to Mr. Cummings' announcement, it has just begun.  Yet again, I feel privileged, humbled, and blessed to have been a part of it.  I am overwhelmingly thankful that we were able to stay healthy and safe, sustaining only minor scrapes and bruises and the odd saddle sore.

We owe a huge debt of thanks to our CAUSE support team on the ground: Oumar (co-ordinator and guide), Augusta (food, specializing in groundnut stew and Mango Powah) and Essa (driver and mechanic).


The whole point of our going through all this is to raise funds and awareness for a very worthy cause, so, if you haven't already, please do support what we have accomplished here by donating securely online to the Birthing Huts Program at www.cause.ca/donate (designation: "Old Guys - Le Tour de Sierra Leone").


Thank you for following along on the saga of us three Old Guys in the Tour de Sierra Leone. Stay tuned for more (and bigger) photos and some video footage!


JW

Friday, May 13, 2011

May 13

Theoretically, today is a day off the bikes - a welcome rest for our saddle-weary posteriors, butt [sic] the Old Guys love to RIDE.  We just can't help it.  Besides, we pledge to accompany Bernie as he rides extra distance to make up for the 45 km he missed when he was working on teacher development at Makeni University.  
So, we cycle an "out and back" along the dirt we rode in on and include an exploration of a challenging single-track trail we find that branches off along the way.  I end up taking another little spill - nothing serious.

Back at Franco's, we cool off with a swim in the ocean and I try body surfing for the first time.  Of the dozen or so waves I tried my hand at, I did catch one just right - what a great feeling!

Wayne's Special for lunch (pasta with a creamy lobster sauce) and then a short paddle up the river to look for crocodiles.  Ross spies one, but Bernie and I miss it.  The boat is not enough action for the Old Guys, so we run the 1.3 km along the beach back to Franco's.  As you can see, this "day off" turned out to be more like "triathlon day."

Around the dinner table (barracuda again - I just have to do it!), the conversation turns retro- and introspective.  War stories start to emerge, encounters with all manner of danger and hardship those around the table.  For Ross, it was his posting to Ethiopia during the famine, starvation abounding and death in the air.  Our sister, Bev was there too, fresh out of McGill nursing school and posted to a remote village clinic with a long line of people with diseases she had no experience with.

Paul recounts his time in Freetown when every NGO except CAUSE Canada fled the country.  CAUSE was involved in a refugee camp in Waterloo and it was a very strange and dangerous time indeed.  Often, such are the lives of those driven to fight darkness with light.

The conversation turns to the philosophy of international development, a cause Paul and Bev have dedicated their lives to.  Education (Bernie's bailiwick), UNDP Millennium Development Goals, CIDA, CAUSE, Old Guys in Action... Does any of it really make a difference?

I am, all at once, humbled and inspired by it all.

I will have a whole lot of processing to do when I get home to Canada.

Tomorrow is the triumphant ride into Freetown and the finish to this Tour de Sierra Leone.  Good night.

JW


Thursday, May 12, 2011

May 12

This morning we visit another CAUSE Canada birthing hut locations, this one built from the funds raised by the Rotary Club of Canmore, Alberta.  Once again, we drive well into the bush where another village depends on their birthing hut to help them beat the odds and deliver healthy babies... and once again, we are deeply touched by the sight of the real lives this project is saving.


To help sate our taste for remote bush trails, we decide to bike out from this village to the main road. We then drive to another bush track that was recommended by Moses James the night before and it turns out to be some of the coolest single-track action thus far.

Eventually, this leads to typical dirt road, then to pavement.  We plunk our sweaty into the pickup and drive to Waterloo.

Waterloo is a sprawling urban space with market stalls and shanty houses, but with paved roads. Here, we get on the bikes again for the ride to Sussex.  After two hours in the pickup truck, we feel like we have been ridden hard and put away wet, which is exactly the case, come to think of it.

Back in team road-riding mode, we head out of Waterloo in tight formation against a strong headwind on a beautiful new, but hilly, two-lane highway.  We all feel the wear and tear of this long day and at one point we use one of our rest stops to actually stretch out on the road to rest our parts.  A short time later we are buoyed by our first glimpse of the Atlantic Ocean (!) and the sun setting between the Peninsula Mountains on the right and the Atlantic coast on the left.  Beautiful.

When the highway ends, we're back to dirt / what used to be pavement. During the war, the rebels tore up many of the paved roads to make it more difficult to be followed.  We cycle through an enormous highway construction project that will connect Waterloo to the nation's capital, Freetown.

One particularly bad section of dirt road sends us pedalling through through a pothole puddle so deep that Ross and I both get shoe soakers.  Hey, when you're in the deep end, it's either pedal or swim!

At long last, we pull into Florence's Resort (formerly, and more commonly known as Franco's), founded by Franco & Florence, an Italian couple who have been running the joint since the 1980s.  It is a beautiful little place on the beach, with a restaurant that specializes in Italian dishes and especially barracuda!  Franco speaks an incomprehensible mixture of Italian, Creole (and maybe English?). I do a fair bit of nodding and smiling.

After a gruelling day of jungle track, dirt, back seat of pickup, then back to road, construction site and dirt again, Franco's is an oasis, a welcome respite and a chance to recover a bit before the push to the finish line.  Paul and Larry are there as well.  Ironically, in the room Ross and I share, the shower has scalding hot water... but no cold water.

... but the grilled barracuda is amazing.

JW

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

May 11

Theresa Benjamin is simply one of the most formidable people I have ever met.  During the war in Sierra Leone, when rebels were abducting children, drugging them and turning them into child soldiers, Theresa saved countless boys and girls by walking miles and miles barefoot through the bush and risking her life to rescue them.  Trained as a nurse and highly experienced in maternal and child health, Theresa is in charge of projects in the southern half of the country and heads up CAUSE's birthing huts project. I met Theresa in 2000 when I ran CAUSE Canada Atlantic. She is simply a force to be reckoned with and, incidentally, a ton of fun to be with.

Today, Theresa takes us to see exactly what we have come all this way and done all this work for.  We drive deep into the bush along single lane path to two remote villages where these birthing huts are
currently operating.

We are greeted by a throng of primary (followed by secondary) school children, who parade in accompanied by a drum group and singing welcome songs to us. There are dozens of women here, either pregnant or carrying infants, and it dawns on me:  These are women and babies whose lives were likely saved by the project we are here to support.  I am blown away.

The birthing hut itself is a concrete structure, about 30 ft square with a corrugated tin roof.  It is typically staffed by two Maternal and Child Health Aids (MCHAs) and five Traditional Birthing Assistants (TBAs) who work on rotation.  The women we meet have been admitted for a variety of perinatal complications, ranging from edema (swelling of the lower limbs) to postpartum health issues. Without the birthing huts program, it is women like these who die trying to walk to the nearest hospital with their unborn babies.

The MCHAs demonstrate an astounding level of understanding of all things maternal, a combination of traditional knowledge, appropriate technology and modern medical science.  As we bike out of the second village, I am left with the overwhelming sense that this project is truly making a difference.

The day is far from over.  We still have to bike all the way to Taiama. The heat, as usual, is not our ally, but we make Taiama by sunset and check into the Taiama Lodge, an oddly gaudy guest house with Roman columns and ornate finery.  We are the only guests here tonight.

While having supper, we strike up a conversation with Moses James, a Sierra Leonean man who has stopped in for a drink.  He has been living in the US for 20 years, and is back now to plan construction of his retirement homes in Taiama and Freetown.  He is a fascinating man with very interesting views on the current state and future of his country.  He is also the brother of the local Paramount Chief.  He calls his brother to arrange an informal meeting with us, but alas, it is too late and the Chief is bound for bed.

So, too, are we.

JW