As Mr. Jagger once so famously said, please allow me to introduce myself.
I’m Lucy Grogan, a 26-year-old newbie biker from London, and I’m riding 2550 miles on a Harley-Davidson in the shortest time possible from Orlando, Florida to Los Angeles, California in aid of Safe Haven Children’s Trust. Filming everything along the way, I will be meeting fellow bikers to spread the word in the US about Safe Haven who built and run a home in Cambodia for vulnerable and abandoned children. I’ll be collecting donations before, during and after, the target being £10,000 – a huge amount for this small organisation. It’s 9+ hours a day in the saddle, soaring temperatures and probably a few tantrums of epic proportions.
Have a watch of the first video to get a sense of why this charity needs this so much. Below is also the written story of how this came about.
Safe Haven Children’s Trust is a charity I hold tightly close to my heart. In September, this Brit girl of 26 will be jumping on a motorcycle and riding across the USA from Orlando, Florida to Los Angeles, California in their name. Oh yes, and I’ve only just passed my test.
A few years ago when Safe Haven’s founder, my dear friend Benedicta Bywater, introduced me to her vision for the organisation I was deeply moved and unreservedly proud. She tells the story of Safe Haven’s evolution as an emotional ride. Dealing with the corruption so awfully present in the Cambodian government has not been easy. But the prevailing drive, the passion that radiates from her when she talks about Mlop Children’s Centre, the very centre that Safe Haven created, is palpable. It is on this determination and compassion for the children of Cambodia that she has built a place for them to be safe and healthy, to be educated and cared for, without the damaging effects of institutionalisation. When abandoned children or babies are referred or given to them, they take on all the full time care duties. They are educated, nourished, loved and developed in a safe, clean and positive environment. Just seeing the smiles on their faces brings about so much joy that one is forgiven for forgetting how much money and time it takes to keep a non-governmental organisation like this going.
They also manage to do something that even some children’s homes in the UK don’t attempt to do, and that’s re-homing the orphaned children with their biological parents, offering them free care options to help shoulder the cost having a child brings to families experiencing poverty. The staff at Mlop work day and night through mountains of red tape and corrupt systems to unearth these biological parents. And where rehoming isn’t possible, carefully monitored and vetted adoption either within Cambodia or internationally is the next best thing.
When I passed my motorcycle test, the feeling of achievement ran deep. It was another ‘tick’ to go on my bucket list, another skill. I knew that I could use it for another purpose. Even if it’s being able to do something physical, something that requires brainpower and razor sharp judgment, it makes you feel proud. Things like that make you feel like you own yourself, a feeling not many vulnerable children could say they have experienced, especially those going through the exploitation so rife from fake orphanages using children to beg tourists for money, none of which stays in their hands – the exact problem Safe Haven are trying to combat.
A friend introduced me to Riders for Health: an organization that transports medical supplies to those in need in Zambia, Africa. They allow sponsored motorcycle tours around Zambia to raise awareness for their cause. At the time, I couldn’t afford the initial costs to join the program, but it got me thinking. Why couldn’t I do the same for Safe Haven? Why couldn’t I make my own rules that would benefit the charity? Why couldn’t it be just as ambitious, just as consuming and, most importantly, raise a lot of money? Why not?
As you can probably tell, the idea snowballed. I knew two things; that I would ride in America and that it would hopefully be on the best MC for the job – a Harley-Davidson. From there, things just kept rolling. I decided on a coast-to-coast trip in late September, starting in Orlando, Florida and ending in Los Angeles. It’s a purely southern route, taking me through some of the hottest and difficult conditions possible. It’s a place I know, but not a place in which I’ve spent 9 hours a day on a motorcycle. In fact, I’ve never ridden anywhere near that amount of time before. I’m going to be in pain, hot, exhausted and incredibly stiff. I will also have only 11 days to complete the journey. 10 if I can push it. I will be camping the entire way. There is a possibility that I will get sunstroke (especially in Arizona where it can reach beyond 120 degrees Fahrenheit), that I will be questioned or held by Border Patrol (a force I have come in contact with before) or that I will have an accident in the middle of nowhere with no phone service. Being a hundred miles away from the nearest hospital is another likely possibility.
But it’s not all bad! I will have a support with me in the shape of my long-time friend Robin Goldsmith of the company ‘Small Right Eye.’ He is also filming the entire journey in the car behind me to eventually edit into a DVD which will be sold through the charity – all profits going to them of course. We’ll be stopping along the way in major cities – Orlando, New Orleans, San Antonio, Texas, Tucson and LA – hoping to meet fellow bikers who are interested in what we’re doing. If they want to tag along and ride with us, they can. If they want to donate to the cause, they can. If they want to make Safe Haven a regular charity that benefits from the runs or outings they have – even better. And that’s one of the main reasons why this is happening – if Safe Haven were to become well known in the US through this meeting of likeminded people, they would be able to make use of a massive market, which could benefit them in leaps and bounds.
You have to know I’m doing this for the children Safe Haven love, because when you see that love, it’s hard not to crumble. It might sound trite, but just one viewing of their site’s videos will prove it. They desperately need the Mlop centre to keep running. The demand for childcare in Cambodia is overwhelming to the extreme. The country’s 40 year history of genocide has ensured over 500,000 children have been orphaned. With the horrific child sex trade booming, many children are left to fend for themselves. That is a deeply upsetting thought.
I’m angry that children have been left in this situation, angry that some of their own people have designs to exploit them, and it is that anger that fuels my unshakeable support. I have to try my best to raise money so that those children can have a better day tomorrow. The things they go through are so far from what we have experienced ourselves that even contemplating their abandonment, their abuse and their fright makes me want to give them everything I have.
Benedicta and her team go far beyond what is expected of them. When it comes down to it, Mlop Children’s Centre is a place filled with love and hope. Money can’t buy either of those things, but it certainly helps to facilitate things like a roof over their heads, a bed underneath them, healthy food in their bellies, education in their daily routine, and a smile on their faces. It is this love and on-going security that is so unfathomably important to a child’s development. If you think so too, maybe you’ll be donating. Maybe you’ll be coming out to one of the cities to say hi or ride along in support. Whatever you do, please for a second think back to when you were a kid. Did you not have a care in the world? Did you have a caregiver tucking you into a warm, clean bed every night? Did you feel like you could be or do anything you wanted? I did. Now imagine the exact opposite of all those things. If you experienced one or all of them, you’ll know first-hand just a little bit of what some of these children go through every day. It’s why we must help Safe Haven continue their critical work.
One more question. Did you feel unconditional love? I hope so. Safe Haven Children’s Trust gives children that love. Together, we are going to make sure they still have the chance to do so.
Please feel free to get in touch with me as we prepare and fundraise for this incredible organisation! There are the links below where you can reach me if you want to get involved or you might want to ask a question or help in some way. Thank you to Bikers Report and Bikers Welcome USA for their hugely kind and extremely helpful support and encouragement.