Willow Wheelers 2021-2022
A review of the year by Áine O Donoghue
This year members of the Willow Wheelers Cycling Club were both delighted and relieved to shake off the shackles imposed by Covid and resume normal Club activities such as the Sunday cycles, trips away and usual Club events. However, the Willow Wheelers’ top priority was to hold the usual 100-Mile Charity and was successful in doing so. Due to Covid restrictions, the event was cancelled for the past two years. As an alternative, members organised their own individual sponsored cycles but without the excitement and sense of community that radiates on the day of the Willow Wheelers 100-Mile Charity Cycle. Funds raised by the event go to communities in the Third World many with links to Spiritans Projects. Moreover, the Willow Wheelers have visited these projects and maintain a link between the school and the work of the Spiritans. In fact, the Willow Wheelers have regular communication with Spiritans working abroad through a number of ongoing commitments. Apart from ongoing commitments, the Willow Wheelers Club also responded to a surge of emergency appeals for food and medical relief due to the fall out of Covid.
For many years the Willow Wheelers have supported projects on an on-going basis such as scholarships for eleven students from some of the poorest areas in Kenya. An annual sum of €7,700 is paid for students’ tuition and boarding fees at the Spiritan Secondary School, Machakos. These include two students from each of the following Kenyan areas, Barpello, Marigat, Tangulbei, Machokos and three students from Rotu. It is fair to say that without the support of the Willow Wheelers these students would have little or no hope of an education. More importantly, some students return to their communities as teachers, engineers and medical workers to support and encourage others to develop skills that will help in the fight against poverty. As it happens, the Principal of Barpello High School received his education with the help of the Willow Wheelers.
Barpello High School is located in the drought and famine-prone East Pokot region of Kenya which has had a Spiritan presence since 1980. Fr David Conway CSSp, who played a pivotal role in setting up the school, has hosted many Willow Wheelers mission visits to Barpello. Illiteracy is widespread and parents regard education as the only hope for their children’s future. So much so, parents will leave children outside the school gates in the hope they will be taken in even though the school is full to capacity. Therefore to support the school, the Willow Wheelers have committed to pay the salaries of four teachers to keep the school open.
The Wheelers have other ongoing commitments in Rotu where Fr Seán McGovern CSSp runs a ‘work for food’ programme and also in Ethiopia where Sr. Celestine, a Holy Rosary nun, runs a feeding centre for street people. Throughout Covid the Willow Wheelers Club have managed to fulfil all the above commitments. In 2021-2022 a total of €84,459 was allocated to Third World communities and almost €20,000 of that sum was used to fulfil ongoing commitments. But the Willow Wheelers received an unprecedented number of appeals for emergency aid from communities known to the Wheelers, subsequently, the committee prioritized these appeals.
Over the years a system of allocating funds was established by the Willow Wheelers to ensure every cent went to where it was needed most. This involved visiting projects, talking to people on the ground and safeguarding the security of money transfers. On return, a charity cycle was organised and funds raised from the event went to projects which had been visited earlier in the year. This was not the case in 2021-22, instead the Wheelers were overwhelmed with appeals for emergency food and medical relief from marginalised communities. People worldwide have suffered greatly due to the pandemic but its effects on the poor has been catastrophic. In many cases, meagre food supplies have been cut off and starvation has ensued. For example, when schools were closed, due to lockdowns, many children were deprived of the one meal a day on which they relied. Furthermore, the human suffering behind each appeals is understood by Wheelers who have visited these communities. Reading the appeals was heart-breaking such as the one from Anna Chebet who runs an orphanage for abandoned children in one of Nairobi’s shanty towns. Last Christmas she had no income to feed seventy children, in other words, she had nothing to feed the children on Christmas Day. In response, the Wheelers sent an emergency sum of €3000 to cover the cost of food and medical expenses. Likewise, Fr Brendan Foley CSSp sent reports of starvation in São Paulo’s favelas and funds were allocated to ease the crisis.
Details of allocations (copied below) and video clips from recipients of funds can be viewed on the Willow Wheelers website. https://willowwheelers.club/
On a happier note, the Willow Wheelers have revived a number of trips in 2022. The first away trip since restrictions have been lifted took place from 9th to 15th of April 2022 during the Easter holidays. 121 members travelled to Pesaro, Italy for six days of cycling. It was particularly special holding a ‘Legends Cycle’ again as the cycle is seen as a rite of passage for Fifth year students who have cycled with the Wheelers since primary school.
Secondly, the Donegal Hostel trip resumed in June. One of the highlights of the trips is doing the Glengesh Challenge, not an easy cycle! Remarkable two First Year students, Michael and Barra, were the first to reach the top.
Overall, the trips provide an opportunity for members to experience the Wheelers sense of community and have some fun, this is particularly gratifying after a series of lockdowns and social isolation in recent times.
The good ship Willow Wheelers has steered its way through Covid with Christy at the helm. Admittedly, it has not been easy but the sense of community which lies at the core of the Wheelers has steadied the ship and kept the Club on course. Normal business has resumed and the Wheelers are planning the next mission trip to Kenya in February 2023. On these trips, Christy always stresses the importance of informing the next generation about the work done by the Spiritans. Not only do students learn about the realities of living in poverty but they also come to realise the great sense of fulfilment in reaching out to others. Once that seed is sown many benefits will surely follow both for the giver and the receiver. Looking forward, the Willow Wheelers Club are excited about inviting new members to come aboard, engage in many events and participate in an even bigger 100-Mile cycle on the May bank holiday 2023 albeit with the sun shining down and the wind at our backs.
Áine O Donoghue