Motorbike enthusiast rides the rocky road to Africa to save lives
BY ANTHONY QUINN
BALLYGAWLEY businessman Frank McNelis faces the biggest challenge of his life when he sets off on a marathon motorbike journey in aid of charity across 20 countries to the south of Africa.
Frank, who is 55, will throttle up his durable Yamaha X2 600 on March 22 for his 10,000 mile trek which aims to raise money for St Ciaran’s Peregrini, a charity set up by St Ciaran’s College to build a nursery school and community centre in Zambia.
His epic journey, which will take him though all types of gruelling terrain and extreme weather including the snow-capped Alps and the Saharan Desert, has been planned to coincide with the official opening of a new community hall on the 26th May.
A huge celebration is planned when he roars into Mulenga, Zambia, where he will present the St Ciaran’s crest to local people.
The avid motorhead, who has in the past travelled from Alaska to Argentina - often via perilous gravel and dirt roads - and all across Europe on his trusty bike, said he is feeling a little nervous about his upcoming challenge but trusts in the goodwill of the people he will meet.
As part of his African ordeal, he will have to scale perilous mountain paths, plough through deserts in temperatures as high as 40C, and travel through countries rocked by civil and religious wars.
“It will take me two months to ride on my motorbike from here in Co Tyrone to Mulenga, ” he explained. “My planned route takes me through somewhere in the region of 18 to 20 countries.
“Roughly speaking I will go from Northern Ireland to England, then France, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Croatia, Bulgaria, Romania, Turkey, then a boat to Egypt, then through Egypt to a place called Aswan into Sudan, then half way through Sudan and then over into Ethiopia. Then into Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, Malawi, and finally Zambia.
“I’ve found in the past that people are always willing to help you if you run into a problem. And it is the people with very little who will help you the most.
“I won’t know the languages of many of the places I will travel through, nor will I be able to organise accommodation and food in advance. In some places I may have to have an armed guard travel with me, but I will just have to deal with these problems as they arise.
“I’m aiming to do about 200 to 300 miles a day, and will have my own water tanks and a tent, if needed.
“I’ll be riding a ten-year-old bike, which can go off-road, and plan to donate it to the charity when I arrive at my destination.”
Zambia is a country 36 times the size of Wales, which has been utterly blighted by poverty and the impact of AIDS. The latter has had a particularly devastating effect; so many adults have succumbed to the disease that there are huge numbers of orphaned children who are often simply left to roam the streets. Life expectancy in Zambia is just 38 years of age.
Frank’s former parish priest Father PJ Gormley (Society of Missionaries for Africa) oversees numerous development projects in Mulenga and Frank, who has already made the trip there once before - his kitchen company provided materials for a building project - wants to help the missionary to complete regeneration of the area.
“I’ve been inspired by the teachers and pupils of St Ciaran’s”, said Frank. “It’s a phenomenal project they have undertaken and I’m delighted to be associated with it. I’ve seen the good that they do and the great need there is in Zambia.
“People tell me I’m mad to be undertaking this journey, but I hope to raise as much publicity and money for the charity as possible.
“The main thing is that people out there have so little. We live in the lap of luxury. I’m hoping people will be inspired to sponsor me and donate.”
Pascal Canavan, a teacher at St Ciaran’s College and some pupils first visited Mulenga in 2009, after doing lots of fundraising work. Pupils have again been raising money on the back of Frank’s trip for Direct Aid for Africa and missionaries working in the area.
To help Frank on his journey pupils in the technology department amended his motorbike so that Frank can carry larger supplies of water. In a twinning of Ballygawley with the Zambian village, the new nursery they have all helped to build will also be called St Ciaran’s. It will have officially opened by the time Frank arrives in the region in May.
“We brought 14 pupils out to Zambia in 2009 and were shocked by the levels of deprivation suffered by people in Mulenga,” said Pascal.
“While there we visited different projects and decided on Mulenga as the place of greatest need.
“There was no development work here at all. In most of the other villages the children would come running towards you; but here that didn’t happen. It was an area of incredible poverty. This was a shanty town, with people living in very poor conditions with high levels of unemployment, high levels of need. Mulenga is about three miles by one mile in size and there are around 30, 000 people living in it.
“We’re all aware of the recession and the difficult economic times we are living in,” added Pascal. “But visiting Mulenga and witnessing the deprivation there puts all this in perspective. It has really reminded all of us of our responsibilities to help others in greatest need.”
His colleague and fellow charity organiser Claire Hackett said: “Primarily this is a journey to celebrate all that has happened in this community since 2009 but we also hope it will serve to raise funds to oversee the completion of both these projects.
“To this end we have set a target of getting 10,000 people to support Frank on this odyssey by texting/sponsoring him for every mile he completes. (£2 a text per person would give us a grand total of £20,000).
“We would appreciate all help and support with the promotion and sponsorship of this project in whatever means possible. The charity is also working in conjunction with the SMA group Friends of Africa on a number of projects in Lusaka and Ndola involving street children and orphans.
If you would like to sponsor Frank McNelis on his motorbike journey and help the ongoing development work in Mulenga, Zambia visit www.justgiving.com/stciaransperegrini or text FRANK65 (and either £1, 2, 3, 4, 5 or £10) to 70070.
Every penny will be donated to Direct Aid for Africa. DAFA works predominantly in Zambia through a range of projects focusing on health care, education and self-help.
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Wednesday 19 June 2013
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