The Guardian (Charlottetown)
Island Weekend, Saturday, April 16, 2005, p. C1

Pedal power

MacKay, Mary

Sheri Chislett is willing to go the distance when it comes to helping strangers on the other side of the world.

Starting on the Friday leading into the Victoria Day weekend in May, this Stratford woman and 99 others will push off from the lighthouse at North Cape, cycle the Confederation Trail and end at the East Point lighthouse on Monday, May 23.

"I was out twice on the weekend - not the most successful training I have ever done," laughs Chislett, whose posterior hasn't graced a bicycle seat since Diana Ross's Ain't No Mountain High Enough was number one on the hit parade.

Chislett, who is on the Tip to Tip for Africa organizing committee, may be thinking Ain't No Island Flat Enough right now but that hasn't dented her determination.

"I keep saying I'm going to be ready. I think we have about five or six full weeks and if the weather co-operates I really plan on getting out there a minimum of three times a week, more if I can."

The second cyclist to sign up, Chislett was beaten to the front of the registration line by Martha Deacon, the go-getter behind the Tip to Tip for Africa fundraiser for the Townships Project. Co-founded in December 1998 by Deacon and Rev. Lulama Ntshingwa of the Eastern Cape Provincial Council of Churches, the Townships Project makes small loans to very poor people in South Africa's township communities.

To date, the project has made more than 1,100 loans starting at $120 Canadian and assisted more than 3,500 people, mostly women, out of poverty.

"One of the things we're most terrified of is we don't know what to do, we look at Africa and we say it's hopeless," says Deacon, who has led tours of the townships for interested Canadians.

"We're also terrified because it's very frightening to be a 'have-it' and confront a 'have-not.' How do you talk? Where's the common link? The common link we found, when we brought the two sides together, was they could look eye to eye because one knows from our side we're glad we're there and helping and we're pleased with ourselves. From their side, they're pleased with what they're able to do and they're pleased to be able to tell their story."

Sibyl Cutcliffe of Charlottetown experienced one of those eye-to-eye meetings in 2000 after being drawn in by Deacon's overwhelming enthusiasm for The Townships Project. While in South Africa, they visited a number of places where the micro-credit was working.

"One lady had a little shop at the back of her house . . . ," says Cutcliffe. "There was very little on the shelves, but she was using her money to buy and sell in this poor neighbourhood and according to what we heard from her was doing reasonably well. She was maintaining her home, maintaining her kids and able to send them off to school."

Cutcliffe, who still maintains a long distance friendship with township resident Maggie Ntsuntsu, who hosted her for one night, says Island groups and organizations have been supportive of the micro-lending project.

"It's because there's that personal contact. They know that with Martha the money is going to the project . . . It's the personal thing about it."

The Tip to Tip for Africa began with Deacon's dual desire to raise money for this worthwhile charity and do something to promote the Confederation Trail which her father, the late Donald Deacon, strongly supported.

"It was my father's dream that this would be an economic engine for tourism in P.E.I. and would really be a great thing for the Island, not just a recreational trail but would bring people onto the Island for specific events and introduce them to the Island way of life and all kinds of great stuff," she says.

Organizing the Tip to Tip for Africa's four-day ride from North Cape to East Point with accommodations, meals, snacks, extra transportation and entertainment is a massive undertaking so a committee was formed to tackle the task.

First up was a framework of accommodations. Once the Rodd Mill River Resort in Mill River, the Quality Inn - Garden of the Gulf in Summerside and Greenwich Gate in St. Peter's came on board, the other facets of the trip began to fall into place.

"The time of year is near perfect. It's a way of addressing the opening of our tourist season so that most of the accommodations are vacant, but they're looking to get some promotion for the coming year," says Gordon MacQueen, owner of MacQueen's Bike Shop, one of several local companies, including Prince Edward Tours and Outside Expeditions, that has offered vans and bicycle trailers to help transport the cyclists to and from their start and end points.

During the off-cycling time there will also be lots of local entertainment.

"There are 10 meals involved and then a snack, morning and evening," says Deacon. "It's a huge undertaking. We've tried to involve the community all the way along."

For example, the Tignish Boys and Girls Club is hosting a lunch. There is a Lions Club breakfast in O'Leary and an Evangeline District Community Acadian luncheon feast in Wellington, an African feast in Summerside and more.

"In all of these instances we're not asking them to provide anything for free," she adds. "We're actually giving the organization a cheque, not as large as we'd like . . . . But I've been able to find generous individuals who have said, 'Yes, I'll sponsor a lunch or dinner. Maritime Electric is coming in (with) some meal sponsorship and we're making it work one way or another."

One unusual pit stop option on Sunday's schedule is the Blessing of the Bikes service at Trinity United church in Charlottetown .

"What I want to do is really lift up the Townships Project and recognize the people who have been cycling the province to raise money to help people in South Africa," says Rev. Bob Lockhart.

"So we want to add our blessing to the endeavours of all of the people who are taking part, give thanks for what people have done and that the people of South Africa would receive a blessing through this."

Members of the P.E.I. division of the Canadian Ski Patrol will be a constant presence throughout the ride. Perhaps best known for their work at Brookvale Provincial Ski Park in both the alpine and nordic ski sections, this group of active volunteers also appears at non-ski, sports-oriented events such as Cycle P.E.I., the P.E.I. Women's Institute Legacy Bike tours, Bridgefest and Red Cross Relays.

"We probably put more hours of volunteer time in during the summertime than we do in the winter and that's because we like doing those things that are becoming the norm," says Ron Hately, assistant patrol leader nordic for P.E.I. division.

For the Tip to Tip for Africa, a minimum of four of the patrol's 28 members will be on the trail on a rotating basis.

"Our main duty, of course, is to provide first aid services, so rescue or transport if we have to, getting people who are hurt off the trail," Hately says.

"The secondary duty for this event is to act as shepherds or escorts. So we'll have a ski patroller at the front of the pack, one at the back of the pack and a couple roving in the middle to basically keep an eye on people, make sure they're keeping pace and the people in the back don't feel like they're being left behind and the people in the front are not zipping along and doing things in two hours rather than six or eight."

Members of the newly chartered Rotaract, a subsidiary of rotary for members ages 18 to 30, have been exceptionally busy writing letters to community groups and business across the Island to inform them of the Tip to Tip for Africa fundraiser.

The three main goals of Rotaract are leadership development, professional development and community service focusing on one international and one local project a year.

"This bike ride actually takes into account all three of those so it's perfect for our group," says Rotaract president Lori Saciragic, one of members who will be riding the trail this May.

The group is also compiling registration kits which include an interesting signal that is beyond essential in some cases.

"It's a bathroom flag, which is a little triangle. I wanted there to be a 'P' on it but nobody liked my idea," jokes Saciragic.

"We will be giving out to the participants before they start off. So when people go through the community and they have their little flag raised, we're encouraging people to say, 'Oh you need to use the washroom, come into my house.' So that's kind of getting the whole Island involved in the ride as well, even the ones who aren't necessarily participating."

Certified personal trainer Doris Ward with The Spa has created a training package that participants can download for the Townships Project web site.

She is also holding a training session at the Spa on Sunday, April 24, 2-4 p.m. The session is free but non-Spa members must purchase a day pass.

Kelley MacQueen at MacQueen's Bike Shop is also offering indoor spin cycle classes at regularly scheduled intervals throughout the week. Special rates and times for Tip to Tip for Africa groups can be arranged.

Individuals can do the entire Tip to Tip for Africa ride or teams of up to four members can enrol and share a single team number. However, in the case of teams only one person at a time can be on the trail and access meals and accommodations.

To bike the Tip to Tip for Africa, each participant or team of participants must raise a minimum of $350 in donations which go directly to the Townships Project. The additional $50 registration fee goes toward participant costs.

For Chislett, returning to the bicycle rider's seat after more than three decades has been all the easier because of the strong sense that she is doing something for someone in South Africa.

"We don't quite realize how much this means to them in terms of having a living, being able to have their children go to school, being able to put food on the table," she says.

"I don't think we, here in North America because we have it so good, have a grasp of that. But it's amazing how $120 Canadian dollars can just lift a person and their whole family right out of (poverty)."

For more information about the Townships Project or to download the training programs or registration forms for the Tip to Tip for Africa ride, visit their website at www.thetownshipsproject.org, call Florence at 894-9359, or Lana at 892-4170.


Illustration(s):

MacKay, Mary
Ron Hately, left, and Gary Ogle are two members of the Canadian Ski Patrol who have traded their winter volunteer duties at
Brookvale Provincial Ski Park for summertime venues such as the Tip to Tip for Africa tour, where they will provide first aid and shepherding services.
MacKay, Mary
Rev. Bob Lockhart of
Trinity United Church in Charlottetown will be performing a Blessing of the Bikes service on Sunday, May 22, as part of the Tip to Tip for Africa fundraiser being organized by Martha Deacon, right.
With a micro-loan from the Townships Project, Nokuzola Sylvia Mkhaba, who lives in a township in
South Africa, was able to purchase materials and equipment needed to run her sewing business, for which her bed doubles as a daytime work table.
MacKay, Mary
Sheri Chislett of
Stratford is one of the committee members working on the Tip to Tip for Africa four-day ride of the Confederation Trail to support the Townships Project, which makes small loans to very poor people in South Africa's township communities.


Category: Society and Trends
Uniform subject(s): Laws and regulations; Sports and leisure
Length: Long, 1565 words

2005 The Guardian (Charlottetown). All rights reserved.