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29 October 2013

Cycle challenge fights trafficking

Cycle challenge fights trafficking

Ten cyclists, including Christians from different backgrounds and from three different countries, united in their common cause: to cycle 1250km from Sophia, Bulgaria to London, 6-16 October.

Their route was designed to follow the most common human trafficking routes used in Europe, through Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary, Slovakia, Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, France and England. With so many people simply not knowing the extent of trafficking in Europe, this group wanted to make sure the people in each affected country became aware of what is happening on their own doorstep.

United under the umbrella of the anti-trafficking organisation The A21Campaign, the riders covered distances of 100km+each day, sometimes tackling hugely difficult terrain. While one cyclist was an ex-professional, most were ordinary people passionate about wanting to make a difference and let the world know that modern-day slavery simply isn't right.

UK riders were Lindz West from band LZ7, Dan Blythe a pastor at Hillsong London, Annabel Partridge a sous chef in a Michelin star restaurant in London, Reuben Singleton a missionary serving refugees and asylum seekers, and Ralph Boer an executive assistant at Hillsong London.

While in Belgrade, Lindz commented: "It makes it so much more real seeing it." Nothing was more real than when they stopped for a rest at a truck stop. Hillsong Australia pastor Ben Houston explains: "Our Kiwi-South-African-Israeli-security man Joey spoke with a truck driver who told him that if we wanted girls, we just needed to go into this place." The matter-of-factness with which women were offered struck each of them, as did cycling past buildings with girls in underwear in the windows.

The riders worked hard when off their bikes too, sharing the facts and promoting the work of A21 through press conferences, interviews, school assemblies and performances. They were met by officials, such as Isabelle Durant, vice president of the European parliament, who welcomed them into Brussels.

Each member of the team pushed themselves to the limit. Not only did they battle through sunshine and snow, they each had their own personal challenges. Ben Houston blogged extensively during the 11 days and described day 6, cycling up Austrian mountain 'the dreaded Großglockner'(3,798m):

"The climb went for about 23km at a grade averaging around 10 per cent and an elevation rise of almost 1300 vertical metres. I have never in my life done anything so challenging. There were so many points I wanted to stop, but I kept staring at my A21 'because' band.

"It's one thing to do the most physically hard thing of my life, but to have pushed myself for five days straight leading up to it took this beyond measure."

He went on to reflect: "Today we conquered a mountain, but unfortunately we have a long way to go to conquer the human slave trade. Only 1 in 270,000 victims of trafficking and exploitation are ever rescued."

The A21 Campaign exists to change these statistics. Volunteers work tirelessly to prevent trafficking through raising awareness and educating possible victims (and suppliers) of trafficking (for sexual exploitation and forced labour purposes). They have teams rescuing people from slavery and also offer them safe houses and legal advice.

They believe in prosecuting traffickers and work closely with local law enforcement to strengthen the legal response to trafficking. Currently they are working on the ground in the Ukraine, Greece (known as the centre of trafficking in Europe) and Bulgaria, and have administration offices in the United States, United Kingdom and Australia.

The cyclists were cycling to raise awareness and funds for the campaign. www.thea21campaign.org