Ten years ago, FCB Joburg MD Thabang Skwambane was so moved by the plight of one small Limpopo child that he founded Aluwani to care for a community of 63 orphaned and vulnerable children, cycling unsupported from Johannesburg to Kilimanjaro to raise awareness and funds for the organisation.
Skip ahead to 2017, one million days of feeding and caring for the growing community of 3 500 Aluwani children: Warren Handley and Tom David, former Aluwani interns, have returned to Johannesburg after tracing Skwambane’s journey in reverse, to mark the 10th anniversary of his trip.
Dusty and tired, the duo has survived six months on the road, living on $2 a day (the global poverty line), walking and reaching out to rural communities to talk about the importance of early childhood development.
Handley says he was inspired by Aluwani: “We are so privileged to have played a part in this journey; this story is not about us, we are merely part of a far bigger story. It is the community caregivers and the children themselves who are the real heroes.”
They began planning their journey by training with backpacks and then met with intrepid adventurer Kingsley Holgate to plot their route and talk about their expectations: “We were so excited and truly believed we could envisage everything we would experience.
“Then we got to day one and realized we had no idea what we were up against. With no clue where we were going to sleep that night and exhausted from the heat and terrain, we were emotional wrecks,” explained Handley.
David says there were many tears in the first two weeks: “But knowing we had friends and family supporting us enabled us to push through and we learnt a lot simply by taking one day at a time.
“We quickly learnt to adjust our attitudes. We soon realised this was a blessing and, combined with a strong understanding of why we were there, we experienced a powerful first few days.”
What did they discover? That when you have nothing and you approach people hat in hand, they are intrinsically good and most people will help you.
Handley says this was a massive learning for them: “In the highlands of Tanzania, after 52km straight uphill, we reached a small village in total darkness and had no clue what to do.
“No one spoke English and we were too tired to think straight. We were completely helpless. A woman saw us and noticed we were uncertain; she sent her daughter to us and we followed her blindly …”
They were taken in by the family and fed and given a place to sleep – all without any conversation. Would we have done that at home, they both wondered at the time.
Asked to name their worst experiences, they glance at each other and both mouth the words ‘hunger’ and ‘sugar biscuits’.
Often, they could not find food and spent one three-day period existing on cheap biscuits, while nighttime temperatures dropped close to freezing.
“You learn to embrace these challenges one at a time. Everything is new and uncomfortable. Every day is scary. But that’s the permanent reality for millions of people who live like that every single day.”
Desperate to see their families after six months and determined to never eat another biscuit, both young men say they will continue this journey in one shape or form: “We are making a difference in our country and hope others will be inspired and start to make a difference of their own.
“We’re asking people to find a way to make their own contribution. Our goal is to make people think and encourage them to consider their own responsibilities to the people around them. If we can do that, then we’ve done something right.”