12-time travelers, Naomi and Mark Hughes from Hamilton, VA, started delivering bikes to children in Africa back in 2010 through their charity called Pets Providing Pedals. Naomi is a dog groomer and donates a portion of the profits from her business to the purchase of new bicycles.
By Sandra Vaughn, Grand Circle Foundation Project Manager, East Africa
Naomi and Mark are back, and this year they raised enough funds through their program, Pets Providing Pedals, to purchase 200 bikes. Children from Tarangire Primary and Tloma Primary were the lucky recipients of the bikes, but before they got a bike, each child was vetted to see how many days they had been absent from school. We also had to check with their teachers to make sure they were trying hard in school and were respectful. A few children did not come back to school at all this year. Taking this into account, Tloma Primary still achieved 100% attendance for the months of November and January.
Every child’s photo was taken with their bike, and the donor receives a picture of the child he or she brought the bike for. So much pre-planning goes into bike day to ensure successful donations, happy children, and great stories to take back to donors. All parents are invited to celebrate their child getting a bike and many of them had a song or dance of appreciation for Naomi and Mark. Naomi’s generosity extends past the bikes to all children—she surprised them with lunch fit for a king: rice, beans, salad, fruit, and a glass of soda. There was even enough for the parents as well.
This year, the most heartwarming story of impacting lives and communities came from Naomi’s decision to take 70 bikes along the dirt road from Karatu to Lake Eyasi and randomly drop into family homes to deliver bikes. Says Naomi, “The first bike we handed out went to an old woman who must have been 90. She put on the Pets Providing Pedals t-shirt we gave her and was as proud as a peacock to be wearing it and to have a new bike!”
She even found seventeen or eighteen kids playing football, and she “stopped the bus” to give all the kids a bike. “We had a big truck with 70 bikes in it and our safari vehicle,” Naomi remembers. “We saw a bunch of kids playing soccer in a field so we pulled onto the field and gave the kids bikes. One child said ‘I think I’m rich!’ We didn’t realize that these kids were from a school right over the hill, but then all of a sudden all of these school children ran over the hill running towards us. It was amazing.”
For six years, I have witnessed the joy from children receiving a bike, but I just cannot even fathom what went through their families’ minds, or why the children thought it was happening. As Naomi says, “Imagine someone walking up to your house and giving you a car.” Let’s just believe it was magic. Naomi and Mark turned up, waved a magic wand, and gifted a bike.
You can meet the children of Tloma or Tarangire—and ask them whether the gift of a bike has changed their lives—when you join O.A.T. for Safari Serengeti: Tanzania Lodge & Tented Safari.