You’ve seen those ads in the corners of the local racing community magazines, like Chicago Athlete. Looking for a coach? A podiatrist? A cure for your plantar fasciitis?
Most of us don’t give more than a passing glance to those ads. But what if I told you that those ads have the power to transforms lives? Would you believe me?
It was one of those very ads that ignited a spark, a spark that turned into a blaze…
Sheila Higney brought home Chicago Athlete Magazine and placed it on the dinner table for her husband, Andrew, and son, Garrett, to see. There, on the corner of the page, was an ad for the 2011 Wrigley Field Road Tour (WFRT).
Andrew and Garrett had recently purchased road bikes. Garrett, 13 at the time, said to his dad, “This could be cool.” Andrew, who had a few marathons under his belt responded, “If you’re willing to do the training, we can do it.”
That ad on the corner of the page set off a series of events no one could have foreseen. From that conversation one evening at the dinner table, father and son began their training for their first century ride.
“We’re an active family,” says Andrew. “Training for the Wrigley Field Road Tour was a great way for us to be active and to ride bikes. That’s the way it all started – being active and staying fit. Just having time together, staying fit and training.”
Because the Wrigley Field Road Tour is a charity event to raise funds for the global efforts of World Bicycle Relief (WBR) and the local efforts of Chicago Cubs Charities, the Higneys set about fund-raising – with some out-of-the-box ideas, like holding a garage sale.
And those fundraising efforts paid off. For two years in a row, Garrett Higney was the top fundraiser for the WFRT. The following year, 2013, his younger sister Caroline, earned that distinction. In their three years as top fundraisers, the Higney children raised a total of $60,613 ($17,383, $20,246 and $22,984 respectively for 2011, 2012 and 2013) for WBR and Chicago Cubs Charities. “Everybody connected to the kids being into something, working toward something. The connection was to the thirteen- and fourteen-years-olds doing this.”
After their second year of fundraising, the Higney family decided to do a little more, “to keep multiplying this thing,” as Andrew put it. Having already received one Specialized Tarmac, the prize to the top WFRT fundraiser, Garrett chose to repurpose his second. He donated his second Tarmac bike to Jordan Rapp for the annual Rappstar Charity Challenge in 2012, thereby helping to raise even more money for World Bicycle Relief. “You don’t need two Tarmacs,” as Andrew pointed out.
But the family’s desire to give more didn’t end there. They decided to change their involvement with WBR from an academic one to an actual one. “Let’s go experience this, to see what this is all about – in a formal, structured way.” They planned a trip with Africa Rides for 2013.
So, in July, just before Andrew rode his third WFRT, this time around with his daughter Caroline as top fundraiser, the Higneys visited Zambia. “The trip with WBR was a no brainer. How could we pass up this opportunity and this experience? From a timing perspective, it was perfect. The kids are at a good age for this experience,” says Andrew.
“It was a perfect experience to tie it all together, to tie together all the fundraising we had done for three years. Prior to the trip, the fundraising experience was nebulous. You don’t see the direct impact. With Africa Rides, you see the bicycles and you see the direct impact on the recipients.”
According to the Africa Rides brochure, the trip promises an exclusive opportunity to connect with World Bicycle Relief recipients while experiencing the spirit of ingenuity and hope that comes with a bicycle. During a nine-day adventure participants will see the profound impact two wheels can make in rural Zambia. In speaking with Andrew Higney about his family’s experience, the brochure did not exaggerate.
“It was absolutely an amazing trip,” Andrew reports. “The structure and way they have it set is unbelievable. The accommodations, the people in charge – the people in the plant, the people out in the field – the safari in the back end, all of it. It’s an amazingly organized trip from start to finish.”
As the brochure recommends, the Higneys flew in to Lusaka, Zambia. “You’re based out of Lusaka. It takes an hour and a half to two hours to get to rural Zambia from there.”
Andrew and his family found they loved what he referred to as “the formality of the trip.” “From hour one to the last hour, everything was structured. Everything was taken care of by Africa Rides.”
“I wasn’t like we were living out in the bush,” Andrew explains. “On a personal side, safety never felt like an issue. Our accommodations were at the Hotel InterContinental. We had all the amenities that we’re used to here. We were never worried about safety or security. We were in a safe hotel; the food was fine. We had all that, with these amazing experiences during the day.”
“This is an experience of a lifetime. You’re never gong to do on your own; you’re never going to have know-how.” Africa Rides saw to all the details – from little to large. A small touch that went a long way for the Higney family was having the same shuttle driver each day for the trips into and out of rural Zambia. That consistency “was reassuring,” according to Andrew.
Tourists may not understand local customs and might inadvertently offend the locals. Having local guides from A Fabulous Zambia was an essential aspect of the Higney’s Africa Rides experience. Andrew describes Sue, the local travel agent, and her assistant as “incredible.” Going with a trip as well organized as Africa Rides and having local guides allows participants to “be respectful of the old customs, their traditions,” according to Andrew.
“Given that they were local, they knew all the customs. Having the local presence was a great move. They guided us the whole week through all the customs, like wraps for the women. They educated us on those customs. Everything was so well laid out for us.”
For example, would you know to refrain from taking photographs of people? “You cannot just take pictures of people. You need to ask the person before.”
And, what would you pack to wear for a trip to Africa? Shorts, probably? How would you know it’s rude to show your legs? “Women, you have to wear a wrap. You can’t have your legs exposed. Even with men, it’s recommended to wear pants or khakis.”
Knowing the customs was important, as Africa Rides participants spend time “in the field.” After acclimating, receiving a WBR plant tour and building their own Buffalo Bicycle – a day Andrew describes as “awesome” – participant spend three days visiting the people who are directly impacted by WBR, “seeing the direct impact of the bicycles, the lives of the individuals and how it makes a difference.”
They spent a day with an HIV healthcare worker and saw the difference a bicycle makes to healthcare workers and their patience. They spent another day with a business owner, in his milk pasteurizing plant, preparing to take his milk to market, and saw how buying a Buffalo Bike through micro-financing can increase profitability for an entrepreneur.
Clearly, the day that stood out most for Andrew was their second day in the field, the day they delivered Buffalo Bicycles to the school:
“There had to be four hundred fifty to five hundred people – parents, grandparents, students, school administrators. They came from villages & towns. They walked. It was a big deal, a huge celebration for entire community.”
“There was a bike ceremony where we gave out one hundred bicycles. We all physically gave one bicycle off to a recipient, primarily girls. You could see the jubilation. There was dancing and singing. Administrators were thanking WBR.”
Andrew recalls being surrounded by the whole village and so many children:
“We were circled. It was almost overwhelming. Fifty kids surrounded you; they would not leave until they shook your hand. These little 5 year-old, 8 year-olds. They came up to your waist. They had their hands out and would not leave until they shook your hands. It was like you were a rock star!”
He saw one little girl who lined up on Caroline’s left, shook her left hand and then ran around to Caroline’s right to share her right hand. “You can’t put it into words,” exclaims Andrew, who attempts again with the words, “Rock star.”
After ceremony, the Higneys got to ride the Buffalo Bikes they built earlier in the week. These bikes would later be sold as gently used to a distributer who cleans them up and resells them at his shop. Of the Buffalo Bikes, Sheila said: “They were sweet! Unbelievably comfortable despite the workhorses they are.”
On this particular day, they rode home with one girl from the school, Ethel, who was chosen because her one-way 6k trip to school was the shortest. Most girls ride 6-10k each way.
Andrew describes Ethel’s life. Her chores include sweeping the hut and grounds and a 1k walk to get water for the family. After her morning chores, Ethel has a 6k walk to school, a full day of school and then a 6k walk home to do more family chores.
“If you’re spending two to two and a half hours just walking, there are several issues – a timing issue, a safety issue,” says Andrew. “It’s my understanding that without the bicycles, most girls will stop their education.”
“The other thing I didn’t think about is, with all of this is happening, there is no electricity in hut. The girls can’t do their homework because there is no light. Come seven or eight o’clock at night, after walking home and seeing to chores, there is no homework being done.”
Andrew also considers the dangers of traveling such a long way to get back and forth to school. “There’s a safety issue in relationship to strangers and men the girls can run in to along their way.” But even more basic than that, something most don’t consider, are the hazards of a dirt path. “As we were riding along, a black mamba snake went under Corinne’s bicycle.” For Andrew and his family, it was further evidence that “a bicycle provides safety just for the journey itself.”
“Physically riding with them, seeing the distance they’re covering. This is an experience beyond anything we’d have here in the US.” For Andrew, the experience solidified the real efforts of WBR. From seeing the plant and building the bike to delivering the bike, and then experiencing day-to-day life with a recipient. “Building the bike was awesome. Then giving the bike, to see the happiness and joy. Then to physically get to go with them on their journey. It doesn’t get anymore real.”
“Just to see the direct impact of these bicycles & what it means to those individuals is absolutely amazing. Knowing how fortunate we are here, it only furthered our resolve to continue to be involved.”
The other thing that Andrew points out when gushing about the trip: “Everybody was friendly.” Their local guide, Sue, told them that they would find the Zambian people to be hospitable and nice. “With 80 different tribes – and tribal languages – English has become the common language.” But, beyond being able to communicate, the people have a genuine warmness.
Andrew explains, “It’s a Christian nation. Christianity is a big part. People are humble and spiritual, almost serene. They are at peace, very calm – even without all the material things that we are used to. There’s a genuine happiness, belief in each other and in God. It gives them a peace you don’t see here in the US. We walked away with that feeling.”
Andrew feels that his kids – aged 11 to 15 at the time of the trip (they didn’t feel their youngest was old enough for a trip like this) – walked away with an understanding that not everybody lives the way we do. “Ultimately that’s what we were connected to – that not every kid has a bicycle, not every kid has access to school.” Andrew said of his kids: “They were a little dumbstruck – that somebody doesn’t have running water or electricity. Or at going to the bathroom in some of these far off places. You could see their appreciation.”
Since their return, Andrew says, he can see a subtle change in his children. “They walked out with an understanding that what we’re meant to do is help other people. They’re even softer, gentler. I see that they’re more thoughtful toward other people. I believe they genuinely walked away knowing that we need to help people.”
He said that as parents, he and Sheila’s challenge now is great. “Back in the real world, how do you let those lessons continue – so that it’s not just a nice memory? How do you keep it real, keep it alive?”
The challenge for the Higneys is great. It’s a burden, perhaps, they would never have, if it hadn’t been for that little ad in the corner of a magazine, but a burden I’m willing to bet each and every member of the family gladly embraces.
“I would tell you, if you have the time and you’re looking for an experience, I would recommend this trip with no reservation. It’s a trip of a lifetime. It’s unbelievable. I know it’s hard – the trip and airfare are expensive – but if you get to, go!” Andrew adds, “The safari in the back end was kick ass too!”
This holiday season, give a gift that changes lives.
Now through December 31st, your donation to World Bicycle Relief will be matched dollar for dollar.*
Donate today at worldbicyclerelief.org/POWER.
Learn more about World Bicycle Relief and Africa Rides and how you can be a part of the solution:
- Now is the perfect time to give. Donations to World Bicycle Relief are being matched dollar-for-dollar through year-end!*
- To learn more about Africa Rides, visit their website and view their brochure.
- Meet Tamara and see how the Buffalo Bike changed her life.
- Visit WBR’s website.
- Check out Bicycling Magazine’s feature on the Buffalo Bike: “When evaluating the Buffalo Bicycle, don’t count grams—consider the number of lives improved.”
- Learn what makes the Buffalo Bike more than just a bike.
- To learn more about Africa Rides, visit their website and view their brochure.
- Don’t miss learning about Higher Gear customer Ruth-Anne Renaud’s recent trip with Africa Rides.