Maria Mihok’s dream to cycle south along the Pacific Coast has taken on a new direction — heading straight for Guatemala.
The Red Deer resident will embark on her self-propelled, solo adventure from Vancouver to the U.S.-Mexico border on Sept. 15 to raise money to build a new school in a small Guatemalan village.
“If I’m going anyway, why not try to make a difference in the world?” she said.
The 29-year-old has long wanted to complete the 3,000-km trek as personal challenge. “I want to see what I’m made of,” she explained.
But Mihok was inspired to bring a deeper purpose to her journey after meeting Azalea Lehndorff.
Lehndorff is the young women who founded the 100 Classroom Project, A Better World initiative to build classrooms in Afghanistan.
“My capacity with CARE, I’ve been going into schools and often do a presentation that says you’re never too young to make a difference,” said Mihok, a rural outreach co-ordinator with Central Alberta Refugee Effort. “I’ve got to practise what I preach.”
So she founded Hope Cycle 3000 Guatemala.
Mihok hopes her project will raise $5 per kilometre for a total of $15,000 to build a new two-room school in the Guatemalan village of San Jose de Las Lagrimas. The project will include two latrines, a washing station, furniture and school and teaching supplies.
Carol Brouwer, a local nurse and A Better World project manager who has spearheaded successful projects in Central America, identified the need for a new school.
The village faces a number of challenges: inadequate access to potable water, basic health and medical care, sanitation, housing and more. But the 75 families that call San Jose de Las Lagrimas home are most eager to help build a new school, Mihok said.
Sixty students squeeze into the current one-room building, which is a crumbling adobe hut with only one small window, a broken door and a dirt floor.
Reduviid bugs — insects that carry the potentially fatal Chagas disease — occupy the numerous cracks and holes in the structure.
Mihok wants to raise all the funds and complete construction on the new school by August 2012. A Better World is helping Mihok reach her goal.
“One of the things A Better World does is help people fulfil a passion they have,” said Eric Rajah, co-founder of the Lacombe-based international development organization.
“If the project and the country is within the scope of what A Better World does, then it will support the project.”
He said villages in Guatemala desperately need classrooms and Mihok’s project is one way to help.
A Better World has committed 50 cents for every kilometre Mihok travels — which will equal approximately $1,500. She has collected roughly $500 in pledges so far.
Mihok has saved enough money to support herself during the journey, which will be her first attempt at long-distance cycling.
She will be pulling a one-wheel trailer packed with the bare essentials — a tent, sleeping pad, sleeping bag, bike repair tools, a couple of changes of clothes, raincoat, head lamp, odometer, tarp, lighter, water, food, nutritional supplements and a few more items.
She plans to travel an average of 100 km every day and anticipates it will take six weeks to pedal from Vancouver to the U.S.-Mexico border.
From there, Mihok will decide whether to continue travel by bike or bus to reach San Jose de Las Lagrimas in Guatemala.
While she feels physically prepared, Mihok knows she’s going to face challenges on the road. But she feels her final goal will provide the motivation to keep going.
“If it was just for me, I could turn back,” she said. “But knowing that I have people who have committed funds and a community that’s really waiting for their school will be that extra push when times get tough.”
Mihok will use an iPhone to document her journey on a travel blog, which will be posted on A Better World’s website.
Visit www.a-better-world.ca for more information about Hope Cycle 3000 Guatemala or to donate.