Safari leads couple to provide bicycles for kids in Tanzania

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By Caitlin Gibson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 8, 2010

The trip to Africa was a lifelong dream, a journey that Mark and Naomi Hughes, both 47, had wanted to make for as long as they could remember.

Naomi Hughes, an animal lover and professional dog groomer in Hamilton, and her husband, who works for the Department of Homeland Security, couldn't wait to see Africa's wildlife in Kenya and South Africa. After the couple's son and daughter graduated from high school in 2006, the family of four traveled on a 30-day safari.

What neither Naomi nor Mark Hughes had anticipated was that the life-changing effect of the trip would come not from the animals on the plains of the Serengeti, but from the people in the village of Karatu, in Tanzania. The safari, led by Overseas Adventure Travel in association with the Grand Circle Foundation, a nonprofit organization, included a stop at a school in Karatu.

The safari participants learned that the villagers often had only their feet for transportation -- whether fetching the day's water in the morning or walking to school. It posed a significant challenge: Students were often late because they were walking distances from two to 10 miles and would arrive exhausted. In a village without electricity, the long walk home also meant that they frequently arrived after dark and had no light to study under. And because the nearest secondary schools were even farther away, many children couldn't go at all.

The Hugheses were struck by the idea that something as simple as a bicycle could provide a big improvement in a student's quality of life. They mentioned to their guide that they would like to buy a bicycle for one of the children in the village, but their guide wasn't sure how to facilitate their request.

It wasn't until the couple returned to Africa the next year on the same safari that they met a guide, Ridas Laizer, who was enthusiastic about the idea. Laizer arranged for the Hugheses to buy a bicycle for the child of a family friend. The boy met the Hugheses and Laizer in a local bike shop, dressed in his most formal clothes, and watched quietly as the bike was put together. When it was done, the mechanic rang the bicycle's bell.

"The little boy's eyes lit up, and he smiled," Naomi Hughes said. "And that changed our lives."

When they returned home, the couple contacted the Grand Circle Foundation and said they wanted to continue providing bicycles to the people of Karatu.

"Instantly, they got back to us and said they'd love to help," Mark Hughes said, adding that it was critical to have a partnership with an organized foundation in Africa. He said, "That was the big question: How did we get it to work on that end?"

With the question answered, their cause, which they named Pets Providing Pedals, was created.

The Hugheses donate 10 percent of each grooming fee toward providing the bicycles, as well as all of Naomi Hughes's tips. Her clients also made donations, and the Hugheses sell T-shirts with the Pets Providing Pedals logo. All T-shirt proceeds go toward bicycles, Mark Hughes said.

The two returned to Karatu last year after raising enough money to donate 45 bikes to children at Bashay Primary School, one of three schools in the village supported by the Grand Circle Foundation. As the safari group entered Karatu, the village's children -- more than 700 -- lined the roads and sang. All the residents of village attended the presentation of the bikes on the school grounds.


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