Cycling with VG4A

Stefa Katamay. Inspired 55+ lifestyle magazineMay 15, 2019.

The group prepares for a day of cycling during the 2018 Cycle Tour. Photo provided by Victoria Grandmothers for Africa.

My husband and I had only lived in Victoria a few months when, while out cycling, we came upon a group of Victoria Grandmothers for Africa (VG4A) riders. Stopping to help a VG4A rider with a mechanical issue provided the opportunity to ask, “Who are you?” It was the grey hair and female presence that piqued my interest.

Within days I had checked out the VG4A website, made contact with ride leaders, and was out for a training ride. While my fitness to ride with the group was being evaluated, I was evaluating the group’s fit to my values and needs. I had recently lost a dear elder, a determined, loving, supportive woman who had cycled into her eighties and was a consummate contributor to her community. It was those characteristics I was looking for and found in the VG4A group.

Raising money for anything supported by Canadian humanitarian Stephen Lewis elevated my active lifestyle a notch. Now I was riding with purpose! Yet raising money for Africa was a stretch for me, despite my respect for the Stephen Lewis Foundation (SLF). Although the phrase “think globally, act locally” is typically used in reference to the environment, this catchphrase informs how I believe we make the world a better place generally and staves off feelings of hopelessness and despair. That said, I set out to build my commitment to the VG4A cause.

At the basest level, I was proud of VG4A riders paying for expenses incurred to participate in the ride. Knowing that the programs funded by the SLF are community-based and built around needs identified by the African grandmothers was also a plus. Yet what solidified my commitment to VG4A was hearing the stories about the African women, stories read to us each morning of our big ride – 275 km from Campbell River to Victoria over three days.

The team celebrates after finishing the 3-day trek across Vancouver Island. Photo provided by Victoria Grandmothers for Africa.

African grandmothers are as young as 38 years old. And they are developing their skills and expertise to build economic security for their grandchildren. Learning to be a carpenter at age 68 to build tables and benches for schools – that was inspiring! Women on the other side of the world were coming to life through these stories.

The training undertaken to complete our fundraising ride was not a hardship. We undertook this work willingly. It was a discretionary activity. And no amount of training, hills or distance could feel the same as the daily non-discretionary effort required of African grandmothers. Yet through our training and the ride itself, we learned about the concept of solidarity.

“Solidarity not charity” is the motto at the core of the grandmother’s movement. Author Eduardo Galeano explains, “Charity is so vertical. It goes from the top to the bottom. Solidarity is horizontal. It respects the other person.” Solidarity is when we agree on feelings or actions, especially when there is a common interest. When I think about what I hope for my children it is not difficult to feel solidarity with the African grandmothers and what they hope for their grandchildren. It is that feeling of solidarity that binds us to one another regardless of location.

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