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Christchurch family cycling to help the poor


Christchurch family cycling twice the height of Everest to help the poor

When Sean and Gill Pawson and their four youngest children went to India in May 2007, they didn't foresee the impact the trip would have on their family.

The Pawsons spent time at World Vision's Born to be Free Project, which supports communities as they combat child labour and release children from bonded labour.

The Born to be Free Project reintegrates children into the school system and provides a transit school for children who have missed out on an education. Older children are trained in skills that will help them earn a good income to assist their families. The project teaches improved methods of generating income to ensure parents don't have to consider child labour in times of hardship. Community members also learn about child rights and become strong advocates against child labour.

Outside of the project, the Pawsons met children who were still slaving in the energy-sapping heat, making matches, cigarettes and rope.

"We saw how these children were being ruthlessly robbed of their childhood by merciless creditors," says Sean. "The interest rates that come with these loans are crippling, meaning many families have no hope of getting their children out of bonded labour without outside help."

But the Pawsons also saw that there was hope for these people.

"Born to be Free transforms the lives of these children and their families. We talked and played with children who had been released from bonded labour and placed in schools. We listened to parents describe the housing assistance, medical aid and economic relief they had received from World Vision," says Sean.

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On their return to Christchurch, the Pawsons felt they had to do more to help the children they'd met in India, and wanted to raise money for World Vision. They came up with a fundraising plan on a grand scale that they are calling Cycling with the Poor. In January and February 2008 they will ride a tandem mountain bike off-road through the mountains of the South Island, from Foveaux Strait to Cook Strait. Their route is over 1500 kms in length – nearly twice the length of the South Island. Over the course of the trip they will slog their way up and down 2100m of altitude – more than twice the height of Everest!

Sean says such an ardous, tandem journey has not been done before in this country. It will take the group along four-wheel drive tracks, single tracks, open terrain and minor shingle roads. It will also include a rafting section, several major river crossings and a number of portages over high mountain ranges. Sean has spent months mapping the route, and getting permission from landowners.

Fortunately the Pawsons are a sporting family and up for the challenge. Sean and Gill, along with their five children, Benjamin (19), Bethany (17), Elizabeth (14), Isaac (12) and a group of extended family and friends are working together on the project. They have been busily training on a custom-built tandem mountain bike. Sean will lead the team as front rider for the full journey and rotate other family and friends on the back of the tandem.

The aim is to attract 1200 new donors and raise over $100,000 for World Vision's Children in Crisis programme, which funds the Born to be Free project. The funds raised from Cycling with the Poor will continue World Vision New Zealand's work with Born to be Free and help fund a new child labour and trafficking rehabilitation project, which will expand Born to be Free's work to other vulnerable areas in the north of India.

"People can follow our progress by viewing the updates on cyclingwithepoor.co.nz. The site also outlines ways people can get on board and contribute to the fundraising. Those who live along or near our route can keep an eye out in their local papers to find out when we will be passing by. We'd love people to support us and help us free these children," says Sean.


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