This post was written by Luis Sanchez, Engineering Manager at Giving Assistant. Photo credit: R.J. Peña.

I’ve been fortunate enough to be able travel the world and experience many of the wonders it has to offer.

However, my travels have also shown me the ugly reality of poverty and social injustice on this planet firsthand.

For this reason, I decided last year that I needed to do something more meaningful with my travels. I wasn’t sure how to find an organization that would merge my love for adventure travel with philanthropy, until one evening, when my friend Ben invited my partner Raul and me to happy hour in San Francisco’s Castro district.

Taking the leap

After a couple of drinks, Ben told us that he was on the board of a nonprofit organization named Chooda, which organized a yearly fundraising bike ride in Zambia. He also mentioned that the funds collected from the bike ride go directly to three fantastic nonprofit organizations doing remarkable work in this part of the world, ranging from economic empowerment of women and girls, to providing treatment and education for those affected by the HIV pandemic.

After chit-chatting for a bit, Ben popped the question.

“You guys should join us for the biking trip in Zambia next year!”

“Yes!” I immediately responded. “I’d love to!”

That same night, Raul and I went home, went to Chooda’s website, paid the registration fee for the biking trip, and went to bed.

The next morning when I woke up, the first thought in my mind was:

“What have I done? I don’t even have a bike!”

However, after seeing these statistics and reading about the suffering of the people of Zambia, I knew I wanted to honor my commitment:

  • 1 in 8 adults in Zambia are infected with HIV.
  • 64% of the total population lives below the poverty line, rising up to 80% in rural areas.
  • Life expectancy is just 58.1 years—however, this is a considerable increase from the 2012 life expectancy of 49.4 years, thanks in part to improved access to antiretroviral treatments.

Training for a challenge, from 0 to 325 miles

A few weeks later, I got my first-ever road bike and started training. Initially, I only rode my bike within San Francisco city limits. Eventually, Raul and I trained more, riding across The Golden Gate Bridge and conquering the Marin Headlands.

As a new rider, these were great achievements for me. However, I still had another unfamiliar mountain to conquer:

I needed to raise a minimum of $4000 to even qualify to participate in the ride!

Because I work at Giving Assistant, where we help over 17,000 nonprofit organizations like Chooda, I felt like I understood some of the difficulties nonprofits faced when it came to fundraising.

Then I realized, while working to raise donations to qualify for this bike ride, just how challenging fundraising can be! (I also learned that donors can come from very surprising places—one of my first donors was from a friend in Switzerland who I hadn’t caught up with in over 15 years.)

My fundraising efforts involved social media, hosting an event at a bar, doing toastmasters presentations about Zambia, asking for donations at San Francisco’s AT&T ballpark before a Giants game, and peer-to-peer fundraising through Giving Assistant.

After only a few months, I hit the required $4,000 and surpassed my personal fundraising efforts. I am even more proud to report that collectively, all 38 riders committed to this Zambia biking adventure raised over $200,000 towards Chooda’s mission.

As for me: About 20% of my donations came from online shopping through Giving Assistant! Just normal online shoppers, donating the cash back they earned in small, yet very meaningful amounts. Below is a graph showcasing the growth of my donations between November 2017 all the way into June 2018.

Giving Assistant

Arriving in Zambia

The big day came, and I started my long journey to Zambia. It took 4 flights, and over 26 hours of flying time—not counting connecting times! On my last leg from Johannesburg to Lusaka, I felt excited but a bit overwhelmed. I didn’t know what to expect on arrival, but as soon as I landed, I was welcomed by the most wonderful smiles.

That night, I went to the campsite and met some of my fellow riders. Initially, I was a bit intimidated. Most of these riders were passionate bikers who had done multiple day-long fundraising rides like the AIDS Life Cycle from San Francisco to Los Angeles. As for myself, I had still never ridden for multiple days at once. Again, I was feeling under-trained and overwhelmed about my decision to take on this endeavor.

The next day, we had the opportunity to meet some of the fundraiser’s beneficiaries. Together, we built bikes at World Bicycle Relief that were given to boys and girls in rural areas to help provide them with better, more reliable access to education. Unfortunately, we learned, some kids in Zambia have to walk up to 10 miles each day to get to and from school. We also learned that 70% of the bikes that get built and donated go to girls, while only 30% go to boys.

The reason for this is that girls are tasked with many more domestic chores than boys. Consequently, they fall behind because of the cultural obstacles they face. In many villages, it is common for girls to arrive at school late and tired if they arrive at all. By providing bicycles to children, especially girls, we can empower them with knowledge and ultimately, change the course of their lives.

The adventure begins!

The next day was our first day on our bikes. I felt excited to be on the road. The moment we started riding, kids ran up from all over the place. They were excited to see us there! We were greeted with high fives, cheers and smiles along the journey. These beautiful smiles kept me going.

It helped that approximately every 13 miles, we made a pit-stop for water and snacks. We would also wait for the last rider to get there before resuming the next leg of the journey. By breaking the trip into 13-mile legs, the 325-mile journey felt more digestible to my brain, which only had to focus on finishing 13 miles at a time!

My fellow riders were also phenomenal. We checked on each other throughout the ride to make sure we were all feeling well. One day, when my new friend Kelly asked me if I was doing okay during the ride, I responded by saying, “Yes! Thank you.” She responded to my “thank you” with: “Of course! We’re all in this together!”

Every night we gathered for dinner and a fireside chat. During these chats, we’d share stories of our hard days on the bike saddle. There was the day we helped pump water from a well, and moments when locals would add us to Facebook. At dinner, we’d also exchange the pictures and selfies we took during that day’s ride.

After a week on dirt and sandy rural roads, our trip came to an end. After crossing the final line at the majestic Victoria Falls, I felt an amazing feeling of accomplishment.

However, I also felt a bit sad that such an amazing opportunity had come to an end. Africa had changed me. Today, more than ever, I feel as though having a positive social impact on our global community is not so much a choice as it is our collective responsibility.

One community of givers—one big impact

I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who contributed to my cause. If you are currently fundraising for a registered nonprofit, I strongly encourage you to use Giving Assistant’s platform through your friends’ and families’ everyday online shopping. Email Giving Assistant’s nonprofit team at nonprofits@givingassistant.org and they will be more than happy to assist you with your personal fundraiser!