9 Days
960 Miles
115 Incredible Vodafone Staff
and €1,085,012 Million Euros Raised for Refugee Education.

These numbers sum up the 2015 Deloitte Ride Across Britain, that took place this September with Vodafone Foundation helping to raise €1,085,012 funds for enhancing refugee education in the DRC.

And yet, while these numbers are reflective – they fail to account for the true nature of this incredible fundraising experience.

In short, every year Deloitte partners with Threshold Sports to run a charity cycling event across the UK. The coordination of an 800 person ride is something Threshold has perfected. The team are nothing short of miracle workers, who comfortably accommodate over 800 empty-bellied, deliriously-tired, and battered riders in makeshift camps across the UK countryside.

The Cause

Refugee children from Central African Republic attend a primary school in Democratic Republic of the Congo's Equateur province. Projected location for a future INS.
Refugee children from Central African Republic attend a primary school in Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Equateur province. Projected location for a future INS. UNHCR/C. Schmitt

Vodafone Foundation participated in this event in 2014, and elected to channel the funds raised this year to support the establishment of Instant Network Schools (INS) in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and to put into place the building blocks to support the strengthening of quality education.

In the DRC, there are 3.8 million persons of concern to UNHCR. This number includes refugees, asylum-seekers, and internally displaced persons from CAR, Rwanda, Somalia, and Burundi. While education is a consistent priority for the DRC, delivering quality education is still a challenge.

This is why Vodafone Foundation funding is targeted towards holistic efforts that could improve learning inside and outside the classroom.

(Photo caption: Refugee children from Central African Republic attend a primary school in Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Equateur province. Projected location for a future INS. UNHCR/ C. Schmitt/ January 2014)

Partnership on the Road

Learn Lab Jackie Strecker Refugee Education Vodafone Foundation

When I heard that 115 Vodafone staff had signed up for the grueling 9-day ride to raise funds for the INS partnership, I decided I should join and support the ride. This decision, which was one I questioned often during the ride, was in retrospect a very smart choice.

Participating in this event not only provided a real appreciation for how arduous the 960-mile experience is; it also afforded me 960 miles of open road to get to know the incredible people behind the Vodafone name, and hear some of the stories that prompted people to join the ride.

Everyone had his or her own personal reason for joining the ride, and in a lot of ways, the ride represented an opportunity to challenge oneself individually. That said, what amazed me most was how much this experience forged bonds among members of the Vodafone Team.

Now it might just be that Vodafone is exceptional (and in a lot of ways I feel this is true) but the support for one another transitioned beyond the collegial, in a way that I think is only possible when a group of people share an experience that is truly mentally and/or physically demanding.

Even as a pseudo-outsider, #TeamVodafone embraced me into their family. The days were spent cycling alongside Vodafone staff who would linger long enough to have a chat about the INS program and whatever the current ‘niggling’ body part was.

(Niggling – a British term one would hear a lot during the bike ride. “I had a niggle in my knee” which translated into my knee is killing me but I am polite and ‘a niggle’ sounds much more pleasant.)

With each person I met, I was more and more amazed by the incredible individuals and the deep motivations (be it time spent in refugee camps, personal challenges, or family tragedy) that prompted staff to join the ride.

These insights helped to establish a richer understanding of the tapestry of people who make up the organization that UNHCR has partnered with for the past two years. Knowing the staff really brings to light the values that Vodafone Foundation have embodied in our partnership – which has always been focused on putting people at the heart of its programming.

A group photo of Team Vodafone that biked for the Vodafone Foundation.

It wasn’t just the riders involved in this challenge – but their families who drove out to support,  who coordinated everything and cheered us on at every stop; as well as the staff who baked energy bars and waved us off ahead of the ride.

Many riders remarked about how great it was to meet other staff from around the world: Andrew Dunnett, Vodafone Foundation Director, who cycled the entire ride; as well as Becky Telford and Oisin Walton from the INS team who came out to support, with Oisin leading the way in a yellow jersey on Day 4!

I was also very grateful to have Erin Hayba, former UNHCR staff who helped set the groundwork for the INS in Dadaab, join us for the trip and show her on-going support for the program.

It really felt like, by the end of the ride (and in part due to my constant nattering about the INS program and our gratitude for raising funds to help spread the program), a tighter connection was established.

Our partnership, which in the past had been people-focused at the Foundation-beneficiary end, now had strengthening ties between the broader Vodafone staff – the Foundation, UNHCR (the partner), and the program in the field.

Next year (and the conversations are in the works) it would be great to make the last link to the field even stronger, although the Foundation did support two riders from DRC to join the team this year!

The Journey

As for the ride itself, well it was the perfect mix of challenging and rewarding that made the experience memorable. Setting out in Land’s End the group was filled with anticipation and nerves; the latter of which quickly drifted away as we cycled through the English countryside. The first two days were the hardest in terrain.

Completing Day One, with the endless hills was more a feat of adrenalin, but for the remaining days we quickly settled into a routine of eating, cycling, and sleeping (with a good mix of conversations and pit-stops thrown into the mix).

Some route highlights included:

Day 4: The Day of the Yellow Jersey – The day was spent with cycling next to Andrew, Dave and, Oisin from the Vodafone Foundation Team. Oisin started the day utilizing his fresh legs to set a strong pace; leading the way with the yellow jersey. One particular highlight of the day was meeting the Mayor of Middlewich.

A photo of bike riders for #Team Vodafone.

Day 6: The Longest Day – The day started with a bit of mental and physical fatigue but this was soon forgotten, overshadowed by the dramatic Scottish highlands. Scotland was simply breathtaking!

Photo of Jackie Strecker, Learn Lab Manager, biking through Scotland.

Day 9: The Finale – The majority of the day was spent cycling with Erin Hayba, as we passed, (and more accurately) were passed by packs of the #TeamVodafone riders as they pedalled their way to the finish. Everyone was very supportive, giving greetings and words of encouragement –  it was a true culmination of all of the teambuilding of the days prior. Even the landscape felt like a summary of the past 8 days: shifting from forest-lined single track roads, dramatic climbs along the coast, and endless farmers fields. The cross at the finish line was packed with people cheering on their colleagues and the goodwill continued as participants helped others take “Finale Photos” at the seaside, and help with packing of bikes and departures home.

A group of Vodafone Foundation bike riders cross the finish line from the bike ride.

All in all, the trip was an incredible experience and something I would definitely recommend for every person, company, and burgeoning partnership! I am still hugely indebted to #TeamVodafone for their willingness to embrace us into their family, and for their remarkable fundraising efforts.

This contribution will make an incredible difference to the schools in the DRC. Each of the members of #TeamVodafone has really left a lasting impression, and invigorated a renewed motivation that I will carry to the field, bringing the energy of the ride into all aspects of the Instant Network Schools program!

If you’d like to see more from the ride, check out the great compilation videos #TeamVodafone produced of: The Start, The Middle, At the End.



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