To spread the message of ‘Protect the Earth, Protect yourself (PEPY)’ to schoolchildren across the country, myself and five other cyclists pedalled our way through Cambodia’s back roads for an epic 1600km journey this year. The 2006 PEPY cycling team hailed from Canada, USA, New Zealand, England and Finland, and came together to represent the Non-Governmental-Organisation ‘PEPY,’ which was founded two years ago by two American women: Daniela Papi and Greta Arnquist.
The riders raised funds in their own countries to support American Assistance for Cambodia, Japan Relief for Cambodia, and to build The PEPY Ride School. Since then, The PEPY Ride has raised over $100,000 for organizations supporting educational projects.
Most of the riders knew little about Cambodia when we began the ride, but by the end of the journey we had all fallen in love with the country and its people. We all agreed that meeting the local people was the highlight of the ride.
We encountered some quizzical looks from locals when we appeared in villages on our heavily-laden bikes, clad in lycra cycling gear, but the overwhelming memories for the riders were the encouraging shouts and waves we received from the people we passed. Hordes of children running by the roadside; shouts from people picking crops in the fields, and waves from young boys in coconut trees became our fuel as we spread the message of environmental and health education across the county.
We visited more than twenty schools and orphanages over the six-week tour to present environmental and health lessons to rural schoolchildren. The lessons involved games about the importance of protecting the environment, a bilingual book published by ‘Save Cambodia’s Wildlife’, and a bracelet-making activity that reminded the children about different aspects of the environment around them.
When we first pulled up to a school, the kids would run around us giggling, not sure whether they should talk or run away. However, it didn’t take them long to come out of their shells. Soon they were helping us sand and varnish desks, paint a giant mural on the school walls, and build a greenhouse and garden as they sang us the latest Cambodian pop song. My highlight was watching a group of first graders brush their teeth for the first time in the health lesson. One little boy brushed his tongue continuously for three minutes!