With only her right hand to balance her bike, Chhoy Nareth powers with both legs to reach her goal of 60km while training with her male cyclists.
Nareth is not training just to stay fit, however. Hers is a broader mission – to end hunger. She is the only woman among nine disabled cyclists who will make the four-day 251km journey from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap this month to raise money to support about 100 families affected by Covid-19.
“I launched Life Cycle Cambodia 2020 to raise funding for people with disabilities and the elderly who are facing food shortages. Other cyclists with disabilities agreed it was a great initiative,” says Nareth, 41, who founded Food Bank and is the director and trustee of Genevieve’s Fair Trade Village (GFTV).
She says the group began training daily, starting from 18km before reaching 60km. They then reduced the distance every week so as not to hurt their muscles, says Nareth.
With the Food Bank programme, families are receiving monthly packages to survive, but Nareth says she has also been affected by the financial crisis caused by Covid-19.
“It is almost four months that Food Bank has been providing packages for 85 families, and we only have a budget for another two months. To sustain the initiative, we launched this fundraising campaign to sustain them for at least another three or four months,” she says.
Nareth is not wealthy and her life has not been easy. She suffers from a skin disease and has only one arm. As a child, she was a poor orphan who lived with her aunt. When her aunt died she was on her own.
“I used to row a boat to pick up water spinach and I rode a bicycle with one hand and fell many times to earn a living. When I wanted to have a sewing machine, I was trying very hard to sell vegetables day and night to save money,” she recalls.
She says she dreamed of becoming a teacher, which was her life-long goal. But her father wouldn’t get her an old bicycle to ride to secondary school 10km from her house.
“I can forgive him for everything he did to me previously. But what I cannot forget and forgive is when I begged him for an old bicycle,” she says.
Nareth says her siblings could pursue their studies, graduate and get good jobs. She left school after Grade 7.
With no access to school, Nareth sewed clothes and saved money to buy a machine. Today she wants to grow Life Cycle.
Even if she lives hand to mouth by sewing accessories and souvenirs for tourists, she says she is trying hard to seek donations for poor families and she does not tire of helping the community.
“We are very happy when we can help the community. Some of them cannot hold back their tears when they receive our packages. A $30 package is a lot for them because they can survive a whole month or 20 days,” says Nareth.
She says her happiness comes from cycling with other people with disabilities and she is proud she can help people in need.
“I am tired, but I am encouraged to do more. When I see their smiling faces, I feel better. I do not give up on what I can do for them. It is not a big campaign since there will only be nine or 10 cyclists and two trucks to accompany us,” she says.
The journey starts on July 16 from Phnom Penh and the first stop is 70km away in Kampong Cham province.
The second day has the cyclists riding another 81km to Kampong Thom, the biggest challenge for the team.
From there they will ride another 65km to Kampong Kdei commune and on the final day, they will pedal just 35km before reaching Siem Reap.
“It is about 318km from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap, but we will ride only about 251km. We split another 70km into four parts to travel by vehicle since our cyclists are disabled. They may want some distance cut.
“Departing from Phnom Penh, we will use a small road rather than National Road 6A because it is safer. We will use National Road 6 from Kampong Cham to Siem Reap,” says Nareth.
For more details about Life Cycle Cambodia 2020, visit the website: https://www.lifecyclecambodia.org/or Facebook page: lifecyclecambodia
To donate to the campaign and support the Food Bank programme, contact 085 85 15 39.