Biking the Balkans to give bread

Biking the Balkans to give N.K. kids bread

Four Americans are set to bike 5,000 kilometers through the Balkans to raise cash for North Korean kids.

Andrew Godlewski, Suzanne Heibel, Stephen Sessions and Katie Tibbetts met while teaching English in Bundang, Gyeonggi Province, and are now planning a 3-month cycling trip through Eastern Europe to help fund bakeries that feed children in North Korea.

The four aim to cycle in a giant loop from Turkey though 13 countries in a bid to raise $10,000 in sponsorship for the charity Love North Korean Children.

Elementary school English teacher Andrew explained how what was originally planned as a two-week trip soon ballooned into a mammoth expedition.

“It just kept getting bigger and bigger,” the 26-year-old said. “Our first idea was to take a short trip but now it is much bigger, and raising money for charity is a huge part of our plan too.”

 
Departing from Istanbul on May 21, they will first cycle to Greece and then make their way via Mount Olympus and Athens to Macedonia. After that, they will travel through Kosovo, Albania and Montenegro, followed by Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia and Slovenia before nipping quickly into northern Italy. They will then pass back through several of these countries on their return to Turkey, also taking in Romania and Bulgaria toward the end of their trip.
 
Andrew, from a small town in New Hampshire, revived his childhood passion of cycling after moving to Korea last spring, where he met former journalist Suzanne, who currently works in a Bundang kindergarten.
 
The two convinced their friend Stephen, who has returned to Oregon from his teaching job in Korea, to fly to Europe this May to join their expedition. Stephen, 26, was on his university’s cycling team but has never undertaken a bike tour of this length. But friend Katie, 31, from Connecticut, has already completed a six-month journey from Beijing to London on her way home to the States from South Korea.
 
But none are under the impression that their Balkan adventure will be easy. For training, Andrew and Suzanne have tackled 800-meter ascents up Korean mountains, covering the 100 kilometers per day they must clock up to keep on schedule for their bike-a-thon this summer. They will camp out for most of the trip, carrying their gear in panniers as they scale peaks of up to 2,600 meters.
 
  • “I’m really excited about the trip but I am concerned about some things,” said Suzanne, 25, from California. “Even if everything goes well, there will still be challenges like broken bike chains and things like that. They will just be part of the technical challenges of our journey ― but I’m also thinking about if something more serious goes wrong. I am preparing myself for every eventuality!”
 
Andrew added: “Not all routes we take are necessarily going to have roads, and we cannot check all the routes exactly on Google maps. We are going on friends’ advice for some parts of the journey at this time.”
 
 
Charitable challenge
 
Another challenge for the group is raising $10,000, enough to provide 5,000 North Korean schoolchildren with a piece of bread every lunchtime for one month.
 
“We heard that it costs around $10,000 a month to run one of LNKC’s bakeries, so we thought that would be a good goal to shoot for,” said Andrew.
 
“What I really liked from the start was that Love North Korean Children is small and has proven results on the ground in the country,” he said
 
LNKC has built four bakeries in North Korea since it was started by Reverend George Rhee in 2001.
As well as covering the running costs of the four bakeries in Raseon, Pyongyang, Hyangsan, and Sariwon, the non-profit organization aims to eventually operate around 26 bakeries in the communist country, and aims to build an orphanage just over the border in China.
 
A joint United Nations and World Food Program report published late last year warned that over 3 million people in North Korea will require food assistance in 2012, highlighting particular concern for young children’s nutrition in the impoverished country.
 
 
Ordinary people living under the communist regime have recently suffered because of Pyongyang’s bad foreign relations stymieing much needed food aid from South Korea and the U.S., although a recent deal will now send 240,000 tons of food aid from America in return for the North’s halting of nuclear enrichment activity and weapons tests.
But LNKC prides itself on providing food directly to children in the communities it works in.
 
“Of course, any money made from their Balkan bike-a-thon will be greatly appreciated and be quickly absorbed in the maintenance of any one of our four bakeries in North Korea or in the establishment of our orphanage in Northeast China.
 
“We are continuing to build in faith, always without sufficient funds, so anyone who desires to get involved with our projects will be a godsend,” said LNKC worker Shirley VanderSchaaf.
To support LNKC’s work, the American cyclists have made bracelets to sell ahead of the trip and to people they meet along the way.
 
Suzanne and Andrew will also film clips every day for their website http://www.thenomaddicts.com, which they have been updating with their Asian travels since September. Eventually, they aim to make a documentary about their Balkan trip. They will be posting regular updates at http://www.bikingthebalkans.com, where people can also make a donation.
For further information visit http://www.nkchildren.org.
 
 
By Kirsty Taylor (kirstyt@heraldm.com)
 
 
 

Andrew Godlewski and Suzanne Heibel pause on a Korean road during training for their Balkan bike-a-thon to aid North Korean kids. (Jared Mitchel)
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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