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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

WHERE IT'S AT

Bike ride puts new spin on fund-raising

Tokyo-based charity organizes first event to Hokkaido, helps hearing-impaired children


Staff writer

On a cloudy Friday morning late last month, 11 bicycle riders gathered on the playground of Meisei Gakuen school for the deaf in Shinagawa, Tokyo, to kick off a 1,250-km fund-raising bike ride to support the children attending the school.

News photo
Pedal power: Don Kalubowila, founder of the charity Give a Dream a Chance, introduces himself and signs his name to children of Meisei Gakuen primary school, a school for the deaf, before he sets off on a charity ride to Hokkaido SATOKO KAWASAKI PHOTOS

The charity event, hosted by Give a Dream a Chance (GDC), an organization formed by a group of foreign and Japanese Tokyo-based company employees, succeeded in raising ¥600,000 so far, which will be distributed to Bilingual Bicultural Education, a nonprofit organization that supports and operates Meisei Gakuen (www.meiseigakuen.ed.jp).

The 12-day bike ride that began April 24 and finished on May 5 was headed by GDC's founder, Don Kalubowila, a Sri Lankan-born Canadian national who initiated the project three months ago with the help of his coworkers.

"I am very proud of what we achieved in such a short time," Kalubowila said of the organization's efforts in managing the event over a short span of time.

"I hope we can get more people involved in our organization," he said.

Involved in charity activities since 2003, Kalubowila explained that it was he who initially approached his coworkers — many who are fellow bicycle aficionados — telling them that he planned on cycling throughout Japan, and wanted to start a charity.

Peter Logan, one of the founding members of GDC and Kalubowila's coworker, said the idea was to host a series of events over a course of time, and to raise money through bike rides. "(Kalubowila) more or less organized this based on the model he used in Canada, or what he'd done previously."

Using their hours off work, the GDC members created their own Web site to spread the word and called for volunteers to join the journey.

"I like nature and cycling so I did the easy part, but the hard part was done by the eight members of GDC, who turned this from just an idea into reality," Kalubowila said.

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Students of Meisei Gakuen sign applause and present the riders with T-shirts (below right) at the school in Tokyo's Shinagawa Ward.

On April 24, he and 10 other riders were greeted at the start of the trip by some of the school's children, who entertained the bikers and the crowd of parents and GDC members with a traditional Japanese dance, then joined the riders for a group photo before the riders departed.

After a 10-second countdown, the children ran alongside the bicycles as they circled the school yard before heading out of the campus for the next destination.

Picking up three more bikers at the Shirokane Takanawa NBF Platinum Tower, the crew headed to Mito, Ibaraki Prefecture, that day, and after spending the night, began cycling to Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture.

From Sendai to Sapporo, it was Kalubowila cycling on his own, although he said that along the way he encountered many other riders unrelated to the charity who were touring similar routes.

News photo

"They promised that if we do something like this again, they would join. Three have already contacted us," Kalubowila said.

He added that when he arrived in Hokkaido, he was surprised to be greeted by many local children. "There was a bit of an odd sadness when I left Hokkaido," he recalled of his final day of his trip.

Although the organization has no set plans regarding future charity events at the moment, Kalubowila said he has already promised a school in Hokkaido that he would ride for them next year. "I have a one-month vacation, so I would use that to do something like this.

"There were quite a few people who were interested and told us later that if they'd known in advance, they'd have joined the event," said Logan, an Australian national. "So that gives us the idea to really base the events around bike rides," he said, adding that the organization planned on hosting an event every two or three months.

Logan explained that Meisei Gakuen was initially introduced to them by a Japanese coworker, but said their original intention was to have multiple charities they could support. "We are very flexible. If people would join the group, all ideas will be entertained," he said.

The group is still looking to collect another half a million yen. Donations can be be made at www.giveadreamachance.org until early June.


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