Team MTN-Qhubeka, Africa's first ever UCI registered Professional Continental cycling team, is going from strength to strength. So, too, is its campaign to help change lives through bicycles.
Through its partnership with South African non-profit organisation Qhubeka, the team helps rural African communities by giving bicycles to children in return for work done to improve their environment and their community: for every 100 trees grown to at least 30 centimetres, for every ton of waste collected, of for improved results at school, Qhubeka donates one bicycle.
The team races to build exposure and funding for Qhubeka's rural initiatives and rides to inspire potential new athletes within the community of Qhubeka bike recipients.
Qhubeka's Buffalo Bicycles are engineered specifically for African terrain and load requirements, designed by World Bicycle Relief in Chicago, USA, and assembled and tested in South Africa.
At the launch of its #BicyclesChangeLives campaign in February, Team TN-Qhubeka set itself the goal of raising R2.2-million, enough to sponsor 1 100 bicycles, this year. That would mean a full container load of Qhubeka bicycles to give to people who have earned them.
Backing for the project also comes directly from the Team MTN-Qhubeka riders themselves, who donate a portion of their prize money to the charity.
"Qhubeka is incredibly important to the riders and staff on the team and it is one of the major reasons why we have attracted such fantastic talent to our team," Team Principal Douglas Ryder said at the launch. "Our partners also contribute towards Qhubeka through various ways, kit sales, bike sales, product sales and mobile contracts.
"We want to help as many people as possible by providing them with bicycles. By making a donation to Qhubeka, you are helping to change lives with bicycles."
'Effective and economical'
"Rural schoolchildren are particularly badly affected by a lack of mobility," Qhubeka states on its website. "In South Africa, of the 16-million school-going children, 12- million walk to school. Of these, 500 000 walk more than two hours each way, spending four hours getting to and back from school each day. Bicycles are the most effective and economical method of quickly addressing this problem."
Since 2005, in partnership with the Wildlands Conservation Trust, more than 40 000 bicycles have been distributed by Qhubeka. For children, this means reducing their commute time to school by up to 75 percent.
Advantages of bicycles
Qhubeka also notes that "a bicycle increases a person's carrying capacity by fives times; healthcare workers can visit more than double the amount of patients per day with a bicycle; marks improve by an average of 25% for children who ride a bicycle to school; schools where children ride bicycles see attendance rates rise by 18% on average."
'Surpassed my expectations'
In October 2013, Anthony Fitzhenry, the founder of the Qhubeka charity, praised the work done by the professional cycling team, saying in a statement: "The awareness the team has brought to the charity has completely surpassed my expectations. I was completely surprised by the amount of support.
"Our objectives are still clear," Fitzhenry said. "There are 12-million children walking to school in South Africa, and we want to change that. Education is the key to building a good life. We found some children were walking to school for up to three hours and were exhausted by the time they got there."
Acknowledging the support the Qhubeka charity has received, he said: "We've been delighted at the major brands in the world who've come on board. People like MTN and Coca-Cola getting involved is really good for us.
"The goals are still the same. We've learnt a lot of things along the way. Going forward, we'd like to get more government support too."