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DVB Interview International caught up with Hugh Bergin, an Irishman who cycled from his hometown Kilkenny in Ireland to Burma to raise money for Karen refugees.
His eight-month journey covered 15,000 km and took him through some of the highest and driest places on earth.
Starting in Ireland, he cycled through 19 countries; passing through Europe, central Asia, the Himalayan foothills, Pakistan and India.
The aim of the trip was to raise awareness and funding for two local charities – a hospice in his home country and the educational part of the Karen Refugee Committee (KRC).
“There’s a real desire to be included and to participate in any future negotiations with regard to the educational policy that is happening at the moment in Myanmar,” said Bergin.
Hugh said he has always had an interest in Burma and recently has learnt more about the Karen ethnic minority.
“I learned a bit more about the country and the repression that has taken place over the last few decades with the ethnic minorities,” he said.
Hugh said it was important that the Karen people are involved in the peace process and any negotiations about their future.
“I was learning about the refugees on the border with Thailand, there is a strong desire to be included in a future Burma and any peace agreements that they are involved as well. That they aren’t just given a solution,” he said.
Bergin had to cope with extreme heat as he cycled through the hot, dry sands of the Kazakh desert in Kazakhstan.
“That was a bit of an eye opener for me. I realised, OK Hugh, now it’s getting serious,” he said.
“I had to cross the Kazakh desert which took about seven or eight days on the bicycle through sand. There was no habitation. No water. That was probably the most physically challenging part of the journey.”
One of the most difficult parts of the trip was dealing with the monotony of cycling through the flat desert landscape.
“Day after day, week after week, you would have nothing but 365 degree horizons around you, with nothing to stimulate you visually. Every single day it was an endless horizon,” he said.
Although he was cycling on his own, Hugh said the people he met were so welcoming that he didn’t feel alone.
“It was very difficult for people to understand [what I was doing] but I have to say without fail I was met with total friendliness and welcome all across my journey,” he said.
Arriving at Mae Sot on Christmas Eve, Hugh received a big welcome from the Karen people.
“I was bowled over with the welcome when I arrived,” said Hugh. “Christmas day there was a huge, big feast prepared, with lots of people there.”
So far Hugh and his “Bicycle to Burma” campaign has raised over US$4000 and the money will go towards on-going educational programmes set up by the KRC to train teachers.
“So the idea is that the Karen community would have articulate and educated people who can represent the needs and requirements of their community,” he said.
“With education, people can compete and negotiate with the broader world outside of their own community.”
You can read more about Hugh Bergin’s trip or donate to his cause on: www.bicycletoburma.com