This blog post is written by Henry, who recently cycled over 1,400km with his cousin Dan to raise money for My Name is Kumar.
Over 70 years ago in 1943 my grandad Peter had completed his flight training for the Royal Air Force and had begun operations as a navigator in a Lancaster bomber aircraft over Germany and Nazi-occupied Europe. One August night that year his aircraft was shot down by Nazi fighters. Of the seven crew Peter was one of the lucky four who survived the crash, parachuting out and landing in a field in southern Belgium.
Following his landing, my grandad was cared for and transported by a group of incredibly brave ‘helpers’, known as the Comet (Comète in French) escape line. These people risked their lives to save his and help him escape (it is estimated that for every airman rescued, three ‘helpers’ were killed by the Nazis). Months after landing in Belgium, Peter returned home to England on a flight from Gibraltar after escaping the occupied area through the Pyrenees, entering ‘neutral’ Spain near Pamplona.
Now you're probably wondering what this story has to do with My Name is Kumar. Well, with such an extraordinary family story my cousin Dan and I decided it would be a good idea to retrace our Grandad’s route. The plan was to cycle over 1300 km from Brussels through southern Belgium and across France into the Pyrenees, ending in Pamplona. What’s more, we wanted to raise money to help others as part of our adventure and so we decided to support My Name is Kumar - an organisation whose amazing work I had discovered through my girlfriend Alyce. We optimistically gave ourselves 2 weeks.
As you might realise from the title of this article, 1300 km turned into 1400 km after a few wrong turns and trips to the supermarket, but we made the distance in exactly 14 days in early April this year. We also managed to triple our original fundraising target thanks to many generous donors, with over £3,500 raised through our Givey site and even more from cheques. The ride was incredible and an adventure neither of us will ever forget, though we’d probably give ourselves a bit more time next time!
It’s not often that people who have raised money for charity get a chance to see exactly where this money is going. However, during May I had the opportunity to meet the kids and help out at the home in Tamil Nadu. I helped deliver English lessons and joined in with yoga, as well as helping out with other ongoing work for MNIK. I even got to join the children on the highlight of the school holidays - their trip to Munnar in the Western Ghats of South India.
Meeting the kids and witnessing their energy, laughter and playfulness makes it very easy to forget why they are there. They are truly amazing and talented individuals. Before I could begin fixing up a bike, Babu was there spanner in hand to sort it. At the sound of any music, Surya and Madhan (and pretty much everyone else) were there dancing and singing along like a hero from the Tamil movies. And every day started with an enthusiastic questioning from all the kids: ‘yoga? yoga?’ and ‘english? english class?’. If the kids weren’t impressive enough, the dedication and spirit of the staff was humbling too. Peter, Leciya, Sarala and the rest of the team who care for the kids day to day were unbelievably hard-working and offered us such a warm welcome it made it very difficult to say goodbye.
After 4 weeks with the kids following 1400 km on the bike it’s fair to say I have had an unforgettable couple of months. Not many people get to see the benefit that the money they have raised will bring and I am grateful that I could. There is no doubt that My Name is Kumar is doing everything it can to ensure that these kids escape from poverty for good - and that’s something that I think our Grandad would be very happy about.
Click here to find out more about our journey and Peter’s story.