11.12.2009 -

Interview with Kate Leeming, Australian sportswoman

Kate Leeming

Kate Leeming is undertaking a ten-month, 20,000 kilometre cycle ride across Africa from Senegal in the west to the Horn of Africa in the east.

The purpose of her Breaking the Cycle trip, an official activity of the United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development, is to witness poverty, its causes and solutions firsthand and educate children worldwide through an innovative online learning programme.

Eduinfo caught up with her a month into her trip in Segou (Mali) as she prepared to cycle to Timbuktu. Kate has also completed cycling expeditions in Russia and Australia.

How are you holding up?
Because this is the first expedition with an education programme, organizing it was so hectic that it was difficult to train. In the last few months I managed virtually no training, had maximum stress and little sleep in order to get the project off the ground. Therefore starting off from Dakar in extreme heat and humidity was very tough. After a couple of weeks, the metabolism increased and my fitness improved. I also had the inevitable bout of “gastro” after that. I’m now starting to feel pretty fit and keen to cover the next stage from Segou to Timbuktu.

This is your third cycle marathon. How is this ride different?
The main difference between this expedition and the Russian and Australian expeditions is that because of the education programme the logistics are far more complex. Rather than exploring just one (large) country, in Africa I have to contend with 23 different countries, with a range of different cultures and languages. In the previous expeditions I have travelled unsupported, but here I am travelling with a support vehicle so I can administer the programme and we can make a documentary. This means more people and a much larger budget. I’ve been developing the concept for a number of years, and it took 18 months of intensive organisation to find the sponsorship, develop the education programme (with the Victorian Department of Education and Early Childhood Development), create interest in the documentary, promote and organise all areas.

Who are you meeting on the way?
During the expedition I have arranged to visit a variety of projects related to the causes and consequences of extreme poverty so that by the finish each of the issues will have been investigated. I have eight different partners, including UNESCO, who are helping me explore the issues in a more meaningful way.

Any good news stories about poverty and sustainable development so far?
I have visited two Millennium Villages, Potou in Senegal and Tiby near Segou, Mali. [Millennium Villages aim to reach their Millennium Development Goals by 2015 though community-led ideas for sustainable change. The villages are sponsored by partners including the United Nations Development Programme]. It is amazing what has been achieved in three years and I am impressed at how the initiatives are looking at development in the long term. Potou has a clinic and the number of primary schools in the region has doubled in the three years since the project started. In Tiby the project is being entirely run by local Malian people. Now that the basics are being turned around they are concentrating on business, trade and skills transfer.

How does your trip tie in with the DESD?
The Victorian Department of Education and Early Childhood Development has created a fantastic e-learning programme which can be accessed via my website (www.btcycle.com). While students follow the expedition, the programme encourages a very deep enquiry-based learning. Middle-school students can take part in any or all of the four modules at any stage during the journey. The educational ‘Ning’ (collaborative website) is like a networking site for teachers to communicate and share their resources and includes blogs, age appropriate learning materials, forums and videos of students’ reflections on the trip. There are many resources including some from UNESCO.

Tell us about some of the ways you are raising the issues highlighted by the MDGs.
I am getting my messages across via the website, a publicity campaign, a documentary, public speaking (planned for after the expedition) and I intend to write another book about the project and my findings. Sponsors and partners are also promoting the project.

What has been the reaction of schoolchildren following the journey on internet?
It's early days for the expedition – we have only done five weeks (and 2500km) out of ten months and over 20,000 km. At the beginning I was swamped with emails which were mostly from well-wishers. When I look at the ‘Ning’ I have noted that teachers are creating some great exercises for their classes to learn about African culture. The site poses questions such as How am I connected to Africa? and How does where I live affect who I am?

What do the African people you are meeting have to say about poverty and sustainable development?
Always, when I explain what we are doing – that we are travelling across their continent to educate (and dispel misconceptions) about the cultures and what is needed to ‘give a leg up rather than a hand out’ they are really impressed, often overwhelmed with the effort we are making. They are generally very keen to show that they are capable of making the changes themselves, with some help especially in specific education and skills transfer.

What do you hope for from the trip?
I hope this trip will inspire and help educate as many people as possible to become involved so they can make a contribution themselves.

Related Links

Breaking the Cycle Ning

Breaking the Cycle website

UNESCO Education for Sustainable Development website


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