Ordinary Women Being Extraordinary
Violist and fiddle player, Iona Hassan, 39, from Pewsey is planning to cycle across the globe over the next two years to raise £10,000 for Inspire Malawi, who are building classrooms for kids; and to help raise awareness and funds for Networks of Wellbeing (NoW), a mental health charity supporting young people.
‘The idea to do something worthwhile, and to get fit had been brewing for quite some time. Then in October 2016, I spent a month in Malawi. I was invited over by a friend who had set up a small charity there and was helping local communities to improve the education facilities for the children. We stayed in a little village in the middle of nowhere, where the people had very little, and there was no running water or electricity. But what they lacked materially they more than made up for in warmth and kindness. The school in Mlanda, rebuilt by Inspire Malawi, was incredible and I wanted to help other communities rebuild their schools too, so when I saw the roof of a school in a neighbouring village which was leaking and the children, who were all enthusiastic about their education, were sitting on the floor on small rocks I decided to do something about it.
‘Children walk long distances to get to school but there are some charities, including Buffalo Bikes (World Bicycle Relief), who are supplying bikes so they can cycle instead of walk. Currently the boys are much more likely to cycle than the girls, so I thought me cycling might inspire some more of the girls to also cycle to school.
‘I’d been cycling for about a year when I had the idea to cycle the whole of Malawi, then that idea developed into cycling across the world. When I got home I went to my local cycling shop, Pewsey Velo, who had supported me to get started on cycling in the first place. I asked them if they could get my bike road-worthy and promised that if they did I’d find a way to buy a road bike. By January 2017 I had bought my road bike.
‘I did need some help to get started. Although I’d always been active and outdoorsy, my passion for music meant I’d focused on that and so work often got in the way, or I just was tired and became unmotivated. I’ve been teaching at a local schools for years and that lifestyle can become quite sedentary, so I often struggled keeping my weight in check.
‘I started small, cycling just 5K to 10K. I’m very lucky to have found the the guys and girls at the shop who also run cycling groups – they are all experienced cyclists and have a wealth of useful advice and great tips. From going out on my bike once or twice a week, once I’d committed to the challenge, I started cycling everywhere I went, getting up to 50K to 60K four to five times a week. I’d had a taste of what I needed to do in May 2017 as I’d gone on a nine day cycling tour, covering the North Coast of Scotland 500 miles (pretty hilly), stopping over to camp for the night – but what I’d planned was a way bigger challenge!
‘I started the tour in July 2017, cycling from Roscoff, in the north west of France, through Switzerland (Swiss Cycle route three) to Venice. I cycled across the mountainous Gotthard Pass, which was tough, but just amazing. I’ve got no sense of direction but somehow managed with Google Maps and cycle path maps to find my way to Venice in 25 days.
‘The next part of the route is to cycle from Kenya to Cape Town then, in September, then from Kathmandu, Nepal to Mandalay, Myanmar (making up the India/China miles by cycling as many miles across Britain and other famous UK routes as possible in Summer 2018). After that it’s a quick hop across Australia from Perth to Sydney in 2019, and then it’s the final stint across the USA the same year. Sometimes on the road alone and sometimes with friends, old and new.
‘This year my twin sister, Sharon, has been raising money for an organisation called Networks of Wellbeing in the North East of Scotland. It’s a mental health charity based in Huntly, near to where we grew up. Lots of young people suffer from a mental illness and it’s very difficult, currently, for them to get the support that they need.’
Iona’s Justgiving page: www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/round-the-world-2017
Thanks to my sponsors, Pewsey Velo, for their continued support in my crazy quest!