Not long after arriving here in Ban Nam Khem, village in the Province of Phang Nga in Thailand, did I hear about the Bike Ride for Children. It made me very excited and I immediately decided to join, spurred on by my colleague, Talia, a passionate, fit woman with amazing determination and a constant genuine smile. There were a few obstacles to overcome, but we overcame them and conquered the ride! One of the best decisions I have made since I arrived!!
The second annual Bike Ride is a charity ride in support of the Camillian Social Centre in Takuapa. The Camillian Social Centre is essentially a day program for children and teens with disabilities in the Phang Nga area. It’s the only one of its kind in southern Thailand. I have been lucky enough to visit the Camillian Centre twice in my time here, though we have volunteers that go three times a week. Here in Thailand, children with disabilities aren’t always treated with compassionate. People with disabilities and their families often face embarrassment, discrimination and misconception from the general Thai community and limited support exists. The Camillian Social Centre provides food, transportation, daycare, respite, social development opportunities, education, physical therapy, fun, and support. These services are provided free of charge and without any discrimination of race or religion. It’s the only organization of its kind in southern Thailand.
The first hurdle was finding bicycles. We do have bikes for work, but they are not the sturdiest nor most reliable. If they have gears, they slip and most don’t. The humidity causes rust rapidly here. I spoke with our local bicycle shop but there were not open to sponsoring us, nor do they rent bicycles. I asked for their referral to companies that do rent bikes and they were unable to find any.
Quite some time passed, til we were about a week before the ride.
Inspiration came as I saw a group of foreigners cycle past our home on a cycling tour! A cycling tour company. They will have road bikes that will stand up to a 25 km bike ride. (Not massive, but a bit of a distance in the Thai heat, humidity and sun). I spoke to one in Khao Lak, the nearby tourist town. They don’t rent bikes but referred me to another cycle tour company that does. After getting in touch with them, we had a tall bike reserved for Talia and a smaller one for me.
Plans were made for collection and return of the bikes as transportation to and from the race were a bit of a challenge, and the timing of pickup needed to be the day prior to the race.
Two days before the ride, on the way to town, we paid attention to the road… Another obstacle. It seemed flat over the past few months of living here and being driven along it, BUT, when you pay attention it’s actually quite hilly. We both gulped. Talia is a fitness enthusiast so she was in good shape though nervous about her stability on a bicycle. I am not fit, and had only been doing casual riding and some village biking in the past months since my steady day hikes in Japan. Yikes!
We got back that evening and collaborated to create a fundraising Page online. A little late, but a great combined effort.
The day before the race, we arrived at the bike shop with a mini van. It was proving difficult and a necessity to disassemble the bikes to fit them in the mini van taxi. However we had just seen the start line and realized it was a very short ride across the highway. And the shop was available to be open extremely early just before the race. Serendipitous!!!!
The next morning we gathered the bikes, the taller one with crazy shifting gears and having a great clunking noise rhythmically following the pedalling rhythm. The owner seemed unsympathetic and accused Talia of not knowing how to ride a bike. Not the best impression of customer service, to say the least.
We tried not to let it damper our mood and proceeded to the race start. We asked Somchai the super sweet fellow who organizes the race and runs the Camillian Centre about oil and tools to repair the bikes and he sent a whole crew to help us out!!
An English announcer and a Thai announcer were at the start setting us up for the day. We registered, and got some beautiful baby blue Tshirts. We had worn matching purple GVI shirts, but decided to wear the Bike Ride for Children Tshirts in an effort to blend in with the crowd.
We were delighted to see some of the youth from the Camillian Social Centre and our volunteers spent some time with them before they were needed for official duty. We listened to speeches, including hearing from the provincial Governor.
The first hill up towards the national park proved a major problem for Talia’s bike with the gears noisily clunking and the chain coming off. We fixed it and swapped bikes. กIt wasn’t perfect for me, but a little easier and we continued on the ride. We were dead last by this point, though. The competitive Talia urged me on and I did my best. We probably passed about twenty people and there were many water breaks along the way. Taxis dedicated to bike problems and transporting broken bikes and riders continually were passing and driving by. A local radio station kept us all motivated with the same fun Thai pop song. The sun beamed down on us and we had a great time. Near the end there was a massive water station where everybody stopped. Nice to laugh and chat a bit with a few Thai riders, rest a bit and try some lychee juice and water. Sweat was running into our eyes so I imitated a Thai fellow who appeared to be a seasoned bike racer and splashed the water on my face to get rid of the stinging in my eyes. We continued on and ended up going along the ocean so stopped for a photo op. And we arrived at the Camillian Social Centre at the end of the 25 km. It didn’t feel too long but I was very tired by the end. I kept sweating for almost an hour I would say! Hahha. There was lots of fluid replenishing drinks and amazingly delicious food. We took a big group photo and hung out with the Camillian group again as well.
It was a great day, well organized and lots of fun. I am glad I did it, and have been trying to exercise a little more because I would like to be a bit more fit for the next fundraiser.
So far we have raised about $600 Canadian dollars which if you translate it into Thai Baht is a significant amount. It was even more than a local hotel raised so we felt very proud. We will happily still accept donations at the link above if you would like to help support this amazing centre with great kids in Southern Thailand!!!
Mission accomplished!!! Happy we did it and nice but surmountable challenges along the way! Nice to do something fun and for an amazing local cause!!!