By Craig and Marc Kielburger
Mark Quattrochi rode up a rough, dusty path into the small village of El Trapiche on a bicycle laden with bags.
The 28-year-old Ontario teacher had peddled more than 20,000 kilometres from China to Nicaragua. A group of local boys on bikes watched the stranger approach and fell in beside Quattrochi as he headed down the last hill.
Quattrochi explained that he was from Canada, and they joked around and compared notes on Justin Bieber. Then he shared that he'd been riding his bicycle around the world to raise funds for new school rooms, to help kids just like them. The bikes skidded to a stop. The boys stared at their new companion in amazement.
For two years, Quattrochi was on a journey spanning five continents and 40 countries.
His initial goal was to raise $10,000 to build a school room in rural China, where he'd once worked as a teacher. He connected with our organization, Free The Children, set up a fundraising page and set off, not knowing whether anyone beyond his family would support him.
Soon, donations started pouring in.
"When I was at my lowest, I would get a donation from a school back in Canada. It really did keep the wheels turning and kept me focused on something good on the horizon," he told us.
The wanderlust fundraiser is not alone in his desire to cross boundaries and connect with issues closest to his heart.
Benoit Lebel of Shawinigan, Que. started walking across Canada in March to raise funds for the Children's Wish Foundation, fulfilling a childhood desire to see the whole country. Matt Napier of Australia set out in June to walk 2,250 kilometres across Southern Africa, raising awareness of global poverty and committing to live on US$1.25 a day.
By the time Quattrochi had biked through China, he had raised enough to build a school room. Rather than stopping at the border, he plotted a new route that allowed him to visit all of the other communities in India, Kenya, Ecuador and Nicaragua where he wanted to build school rooms.
"In El Trapiche, it blew me away that one kid had to ride up that 10-kilometre hill to get to his high school. They're trying to build a high school in the community so kids don't have to make the crazy ride every day," he says.
Throughout his travels, Quattrochi kept a log of acts of kindness he experienced. People would see him struggling on the side of the road and invite him home for a meal. He says their generosity was humbling because they didn't have a lot to give. "If I was speeding by in an SUV, that kind of thing wouldn't happen. The bicycle really is the equalizer," he says.
Quattrochi believes we all have an epic "bicycle ride" inside of us, a dream that will connect us with a cause and the world around us. It's an idea he's cultivated over thousands of hours on the road alone and through the chance meetings that touched him to the core.
In El Trapiche, for instance, Quattrocchi met with a women's group that told him about the bracelet-making project they had started. Most put the income toward their children's education. One young woman was saving to go back to school herself.
"They thanked me for all that I was doing, and for sharing my dreams and listening to theirs."
For this wanderlust fundraiser, the journey isn't over. He's taking his message to schools in the Ottawa area.
"The world is not this huge, scary place that it's sometimes portrayed to be. We're not all that different," says Quattrochi. "By leaving a mark in the best possible way, we really can make a big difference, each and every one of us."
Craig and Marc Kielburger are the co-founders of the WE movement, which includes WE Charity, ME to WE Social Enterprise and WE Day.
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