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Biking for Charity

Vienna resident bikes through Cambodia to raise money for the International Children’s Trust.

This fall, Vienna resident Sokphal Tun will take a journey through her homeland, which is a long way from town. Tun, 26, who is currently attending graduate school for international communication and development at City University in London, will be making a bike trip of about 275 miles through the Cambodian countryside to raise money for the London-based International Childcare Trust (ICT). The organization partners with groups that work to better the lives of displaced children in India, Sri Lanka, Kenya and, now, Cambodia.

Tun lived in Cambodia for only 15 days after she was born, before her parents fled to Thailand to escape civil war. They arrived in the U.S. when she was 4. She lived in Vienna with her family for 12 years, attending Kilmer Middle School and graduating from Marshall High School in 1998 before attending college in Utah. She has been back to Cambodia twice.

“I had an emotional attachment right away,” she said, remarking on the country's native beauty. She saw that Cambodia's people, however, “really don’t have anything,” she said, adding that the average citizen earns about $200 per year.

“She loved meeting her family there,” said Vienna resident Patricia Knight, who led Tun’s church youth group and has known her for more than 12 years. “She told me they were all really sharp people but that they just didn’t have the opportunities that she’d had.” Most of Tun’s mother’s family still lives in Cambodia.

Tun said the International Children’s Trust, where she is also an intern, aroused her interest not only because it gives aid to her homeland but also because it funds projects run by locals “who know the language, who know the government. They’ll get things done faster.”

THROUGH ALL THE PROGRAMS ICT funds, it tries to get children off the street and reintegrate them into the community, said Maggie O’Grady, the group's executive director. This may be accomplished by reuniting them with their parents, by finding other family members to care for them or by housing them at children’s centers. “ICT gives them their right to have a childhood,” said O’Grady.

The organization works to educate the children it takes into its charge — the younger ones through formal schooling and the older ones through vocational training, she said. Once it has found a guardian for a child, ICT helps that adult to learn a trade so that the child will not need to work. It also sets up nursery schools so that small children need not accompany their parents to the fields where they work, and after-school programs so that parents have time to learn another skill.

To enroll in the bike ride costs 300 British pounds, and each participant pledges to raise at least 3,000 pounds, or about $5,500. To date, Tun has raised 885 pounds, much of it through online pledges.

“It’s kind of scary to think that if you’re going to go, you have to raise this money,” she said. However, she noted, “I’m almost a third of the way there.”

Knight said she was confident Tun would meet both her fund-raising and bike-riding goals. In her youth group, said Knight, “every time she set her mind to something, she would do it, and not all the girls did that.”

Tun said she is sending out e-mails reminding friends and family that she is raising money for the trek, and she added that she will likely solicit funds at subway stations — or “tube” stations, as the British call them — and other public locations. Some of her fellow riders, she said, have held events at restaurants to raise money.

The 24 people she will ride with are nearly all English and range in age from 16 into their 60s, said Tun. Another group of 30 people is scheduled to make the ride the following week.

THE TRIP FROM Siem Reap to Sihanoukville will be made in the course of four days, between Oct. 30 and Nov. 2, culminating in a ride of almost 80 miles on the final day. The course has been surveyed by a company called Action Challenge.

“From what I hear, it’s mostly pretty flat, but the last day is going to be pretty hilly,” said Tun. She said she has already been doing some training for the ride but will be biking around London more in the next few months. “I’m definitely going to be stepping it up in these next three months, for sure,” she said.

In Sihanoukville, the trip will end at M’lop Tapang, the children’s center ICT recently began helping to fund. Visiting the center, said O’Grady, makes the fruits of participants’ labor more tangible to them, “so it’s not just the money they raised disappearing into the ether.”

Tun said she looks forward to the visit, as she has helped with profiles of the children who are staying at the center. “I know who they are. I know their names and faces,” she said, adding that the profiles include the children’s background and such details as what they want to be when they grow up. More than one child, she noted, wants to be circus performer.

O’Grady, who will be participating in the second ride, said ICT hopes to raise a total of 175,000 pounds — or about $325,270 — from the two rides together. About one-third of that will cover accommodations, round-trip flights and the contracting of Action Challenge to work out the logistics of the trip.

Of the net gains, 95 percent "goes to the project level," she said, because ICT is a small enough operation that it needs little funding to sustain itself.

Bike rides have become a popular method of drawing interest to fund-raising in the United Kingdom, said O'Grady. "People are doing more innovative things these days."

She noted that small charities are getting less government funding than they once did. “These rides, right now, are our lifeblood,” she said.