Riding tandem for charity

Coralis Mogis [Left] and Guillaume Facques [Right]
making a stop-over at Mercure Palm Resort, Johor
TWO years ago, Guillaume Facques, 24, and five friends embarked on a project to run 600km from their hometown, Lyon, to Paris in one week to raise funds for children.
Every kilometre they ran raised two euros (RM8.40). Soon they had enough money to donate towards a children's hospital and Dream, a make-a-wish foundation for terminally-ill children and sponsorship of Mutmainah, a nine-year-old girl in Surabaya, Indonesia.

From an early age, Facques discovered his affinity with children -- he once asked French children to draw a picture of their bedroom, and the children obliged with drawings of a bed, soft toys and a desktop computer in a nicely decorated room.

Facques spent last summer visiting children in Surabaya and Semarang (also in Indonesia) where he also asked children to draw pictures of their bedrooms.  This time the drawings were of sparsely furnished rooms with siblings and parents also sharing the same room. This is how he came to know of how life is so different for the less privileged in this region.

Facques met Coralie Mogis, 22, while visiting Madrid in January last year and discovered their shared passion in helping needy children. At that time, they were business marketing undergraduates -- he a student with Ecole de Commerce Europeenne in Lyon, and she studying with Ecole de Commerce et de Management in Besancon.

After Facques visited Mutmainah last year, he was so deeply moved by what he saw that he determined to do something to improve the quality of life for the less fortunate. He contacted Mogis and shared his ideas. The result was Mogis writing a 20-page project paper on riding across Southeast Asia by tandem (a two-seater bicycle)!

The plan was to cycle 55km a day and complete 3,300km in two months from Hanoi to Surabaya. From the Internet, they found their tandem affectionately called Gilou in Aix-les-Bains. It was second-hand and weighed more than 23kg!

Facques with boys of SOS Village, Dong Hoi, Vietnam
After buying the tandem, they knew that there was no turning back. Within the year that it took Gilou to be overhauled, Facques and Mogis completed their internship and squeezed in time to train riding the tandem on different terrain.

To raise funds, Facques and Mogis found organisations to sponsor their project, including fund-raising events such as Operation Postcards which has people buying postcards from Asia and worked with NGOs to create awareness about what they were doing. 
Their project finally received national attention when it won 2,000 euros (RM8,400) in a local reality show, Ideas from Young People, organised by French banking giant, Credit Agricole.

Facques and Mogis with children supported by Plan France
in Kampong Cham, Cambodia
On July 28, 2010 Facques, Mogis and their Gilou arrived in Hanoi by plane and kicked off their ride from Vietnam to Cambodia and Thailand, with two sectors by train from Bangkok to Chumphon, and from Surat Thani to Kuala Lumpur.
They visited orphanages and children's shelters by NGOs like Plan France, Plan International, Enfants D'Asia (Children of Asia) and Enfants De Mekong, they saw the daily operation and needs of these organisations.
Facques visited Asia several times, but it was a first for Mogis so that she not only experienced culture shock, but was challenged by the heat and humidity of the countries she visited.  Meeting people of different cultures and interacting with needy children in the various homes and shelters was a life-changing experience for both Facques and Mogis.

Mogis drawing with a child they met at a roadside
rest stop in Vietnam
"When I am 70, I will be tellling my grandchildren about these experiences!" said Facques about his encounters with the underprivileged children.

Drawing is a way for children to express themselves and to let the children "travel", Facques and Mogis brought along drawings by French children to give to local children in exchange for drawings by them. 
By looking at each other's drawings, the children figuratively "travel" to each other's lands as they see and learn about the differences that exist among people.

With a French flag fluttering on Gilou, the tandem riders attracted a lot of interest everywhere they went.
Mogis giving drawings by French children to children
of Villa Paulos Johor Baru in exchange for their drawings
Facques and Mogis made stops in Malacca and Batu Pahat before arriving in Johor Baru on Sept 17 for a rest-stop at the Mercure Palm Resort.  They had the opportunity to taste Hari Raya delicacies in an open house and also visited children in the Villa Paulos home.

In exchange for their drawings of the Jalur Gemilang, Petronas Twin Towers and multi-racial Malaysians united in the 1Malaysia concept, the children were presented with drawings by their French counterparts. The drawings by children in Asian countries will be presented to French children and displayed in schools.
Facques and Mogis arrived in Jakarta on Sept 25, 2010 for the last leg of their journey with several stops before their final destination Surabaya.

To follow their trail on their inspiring Asian adventure, visit http://www.solidasport.com/.
A version of this article was published in The New Straits Times, Johor Streets on 30 September 2010

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