The Guardian (Charlottetown)
The Province,
Saturday, May 21, 2005, p. A2

No insect worries, just frost on Tip to Tip ride
Constant misting rain, cold greet cyclists on first day of fundraising trip.

MacKay, Mary

Sporadic spurts of cyclists stomped into the Mill River Resort in Mill River to mark the end of the first of four days of riding for the Tip to Tip for Africa fundraiser.

"I hear you took a tumble," organizer Martha Deacon said to the only tandem bike team, Yasmin Stahli of South Africa and Aravinda Meheshwari of Charlottetown.

"It was not so much a tumble as a slow motion roll," Meheshwari explained of their miring in one of the mud roads that occasionally slice the trail in two.

Mud from the constant misting rain was not the only thing the 50-plus cyclists faced on this freezing day of May.

"Biking the trail in May you won't have to worry about the heat or the bugs," many people told me before this day came.

They were right. Doing it in the fifth calendar month does bypass the insects, because the only thing that was biting was the frost on my toes to which I'd ceased to feel any attachment about midway through our 50-some kilometre half-day ride.

The wet, windy, not-so-winsome day didn't deter many of the other cyclists who signed up for this four-day event that is in support of The Townships Project, formed in December 1998 to make small loans to very poor people in South Africa's township communities.

Prior to this, the project's co-founder Martha Deacon was as far removed from townships in South Africa as most typical Canadians. With a career history as a corporate commercial lawyer, investment banker and successful entrepreneur, she sold her parking business in Vancouver in July 1998 and took some time off.

That November she was at the World Council of Churches meeting in Zimbabwe.

Coincidentally before that, she toured some of the townships outside the better-known cities in South Africa to see what life was like post-apartheid.

The townships are where the blacks were forced to live when the apartheid government in 1963 passed the Group Areas Act, Deacon explains.

"Also they were put there without any businesses or any support because the whole purpose of these places was to provide labour for the white businesses in the city. So there's no downtown in a township the way we expect to see a downtown, and there are no businesses."

Then Nelson Mandela challenged those at that conference to do something about poverty in South Africa.

The concept of micro-lending providing small, repayable loans to very poor people to help start small-scale businesses came to Deacon's mind.

She then asked for a show of hands if anyone in her study group was interested. Reverend Lulama Ntshingwa of the Eastern Cape Provincial Council of Churches held his high in response.

Loans start at $120 and are repayable in 26 equal payments every week, including principal and interest. With each loan repaid, borrowers are eligible for a larger loan. The six-step process up the borrowing scale spans three years, after which theoretically they should be able to approach the formal banking system.

"We don't pretend that loans of $100 can build schools or highways or hospitals or anything," Deacon says.

"But they build the attitude that says, 'I can do it. I can do it in this life. I can get my kids to school' then they can do anything. So it's quite incredible."

Despite the incredibly wet and wild cycling day, everyone is ready to kick up their heels to Two Alans and an Erskine's earnest entertainment.

And I'm crossing my freshly thawed toes for no rain and warmer wind for the rest of our cross-Island ride.


MacKay, Mary
Tip to Tip for Africa cross-Island ride started out wet and windy but Henry DeJong of Fredericton had dry feet in the bag.

Category: News
Uniform subject(s): Sports and leisure
Length: Medium, 515 words

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