Later this month, I am seizing the opportunity to spend a week on a bike, averaging roughly 60 miles per day through one of the world’s poorest countries. We’ll climb to elevations above 6,000 feet, racing back down, only to go up again. All the while, we’ll navigate narrow roads where bikes are rarely used for anything but transportation of crops and supplies.
As someone who has always been a runner and prefers to keep two feet near the ground, this is sure to be my greatest challenge yet.
Burundi is just a tiny dot on the African map, bordered by Rwanda, Congo, and Tanzania, and is often forgotten in the heartbreaking stories of genocide that have dominated these countries. It’s a beautiful place with a tropical climate and temperatures that remain constant throughout the year. Views at the top of mountains are breathtaking yet greatly contrasted by the distressing poverty located on the hillsides and valleys below. Most people you meet have smiles and hearts bigger than Texas despite living without any of life’s luxuries and with civil war still fresh on their minds.
In 2008, I made my first trip to the country along with a friend, wanting to learn how we might make a difference in one of the world’s poorest places. Inspired by native Burundian Gilbert Tuhabonye—at that time just a friend and running partner—I flew halfway across the world, not knowing a single person other than Tuhabonye’s cousin who was to meet me at the airport. But I knew I was supposed to be there, and nothing else mattered.
Six years later, I now work for the Gazelle Foundation, a nonprofit co-founded by Tuhabonye to build water systems. The impact we have made on the community is truly life-changing, providing access to clean water to tens of thousands of citizens who previously walked to nearby creeks, rivers, or rain puddles to fill their canisters. There are a lot of water organizations across the nonprofit sector today, and many are doing really great things. Although biased, I am passionate about the organization because, not only do we fund the construction of the systems, we also provide jobs and a long-lasting structure that requires little to no maintenance. We’ve also delivered health to an area that has an average life expectancy of just 52 years.
Beginning May 18, I and 15 men from the United Kingdom (who are riding for a separate organization that is also making a difference in Burundi) will embark on a seven-day journey with just our bikes and one support vehicle. The first day will be spent cycling alongside the world’s deepest lake, catching inspiring views of the Congo Mountains, where the peaks always reach higher than the clouds.
Albert Ndayishimiye, President of the Community Council, honored the Gazelle Foundation in 2012 with a proclamation for development and providing a “source of life.” On the left is project manager Jean Bosco Ndabaniwe.
My reason for riding this year is to build awareness of the country and what the Gazelle Foundation is doing there. I fell in love with Burundi and her people many years ago and would travel there for any reason (this trip is No. 6), but riding a bike for seven days through such high elevations will not be easy. In some ways, it’s probably very dangerous, but people generally don’t pay attention to the dull or boring.
The nightly accommodations will leave a lot to be desired and water is only consumable by bottles purchased at the market, meaning it’s not always accessible. However, because you’re reading this, you now know what the Gazelle Foundation is and the plight of so many in Burundi.
I hope you’ll join me in my ride by visiting gazellefoundation.com/bikeacrossburundi and by supporting. Where Internet is available, I will also be posting updates on austinfitmagazine.com.