If you're worried that your charitable donations might not be reaching those that need it most, what could be better than travelling to Africa yourself, jumping on a BMW GS bike and riding out to the Garden Route with your panniers full of pens, pencils and paper to give directly to African schoolchildren? This idea is the brainchild of GS rider Marchant Maasdorp, who has already been doing this for several years.
“It all started with a conversation with my old schoolfriend Zelda la Grange (former assistant to Nelson Mandela) who had started a project called ‘Bikers for Madiba’,” says Marchant. “He gave 67 years of his life to the world for 'the struggle', so her idea was for everyone to give something back – 67 minutes for Madiba [Madiba is the name of the clan of which Mr Mandela is a member]. So on his birthday every year, the idea is to give 67 minutes of your time, to help the elderly, clean up a garden, school, community centre, to try to make life better for everybody, like he did.”
The seeds for Marchant's own '67 minutes for Madiba' idea were sown when he was riding his BMW R 1150 GS Adventure through a national park in Malawi and saw a group of school kids being taught. Their classroom was basically the shade of a tree! In the nearby town, Marchant found a stationery shop and purchased all the exercise books, writing paper, pens and pencils he could fit in the panniers. On riding back to the tree, he asked permission from the teacher to give these to the kids – their joy was unbelievable.
“To go to that school, kids needed a uniform, so many couldn't afford it. The ones I saw were the lucky ones,” says Marchant, who is also a riding instructor at the official BMW partner CountryTrax training academy. “Some of these communities are still trading chickens for maize, so there are many kids who simply don't get the opportunity for education. A lot of these kids' parents don't have a job. These are mainly farming communities so there might be some work in harvest time for two or three months, but then that's the total income for the year.”
Inspired by the reaction from the kids who received the simple items like pencils to write with and paper to write on, Marchant went to his local BMW dealership in George (Lynn Schroeder Motors) and told them about his idea for a 'stationery run' which could take place on Bikers for Nelson Mandela Day. He sponsored himself the first year and a group of GS riders went to Uniondale – a school in a farming community close to where CountryTrax does a lot of training. They reached over 900 kids and gave them rulers, pencils, books and copying paper. Interestingly, the school had a Xerox machine but no paper because it was too expensive to buy.
The next year they got some corporate businesses involved and raised more money. The third year round they received the support of Canon, which sponsored one tonne of paper, allowing them to reach around 3,000 kids. So far, so good: local riders, brought together via the local BMW dealership, going into the bush on their BMW bikes, panniers stuffed full with stationery. But then, Marchant hit upon the idea of opening this up to the wider GS community.
“My vision is to get riders from around the world together and they can come out to South Africa to experience this. Many people are worried about giving money to charity because they just don't know if their contribution actually reaches the people that need it most. Better to go to Africa and give it by your own hand! If riders can raise some money in their own country for this project, then come out and see the end result, it would be just perfect. It only takes about 13 rand (approximately one euro) to buy a starter pack to give to the kids, so it's not a lot to give but it makes a huge difference.”
“Let's get the GS communities together to deal with this, to share together in the solution. There are a lot of tour companies here, so it's easy to fly across and hire a BMW bike. In South Africa – particularly our area around Georges – it is amazing riding country and we'll take riders to the communities and farms that we pass through. We spend a lot of money on our motorcycles, so what does it cost to give something back? Pencils, sharpeners, colouring pens and paper makes a huge difference to the kids' education, so let's get the GS family together around the world and support Stationery for Africa.”
If you would like more information about this worthwhile project and how to get across to Africa to actively participate in it yourself, please contact Marchant directly by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org