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Kindness of strangers on WHEELS

Eileen McCormick / Khmer Times Share:
Brett Seychell checking his bearings in a Cambodian village. Supplied

Amidst the chaos we see everywhere, it’s heartening to know that some people go out of their way to serve others. They are those who spend their time and energy making other people’s lives better. Good Times2 reporter Eileen McCormick talks to Brett Seychell, the founder of Social Cycles – a social startup enterprise that gathers cyclists for a life-changing and charitable tour across Cambodia and other countries.

Brett Seychell checking his bearings in a Cambodian village. Photo: Supplied

Good Times2: How long have you been cycling?

Brett Seychell: I did not start biking my way around until I started The Kindness of Strangers in 2011. I felt a need to challenge myself to cycle from the UK to Melbourne, Australia. When I first embarked on my bike tour, people made me realise I should help others along the way. This is how the concept of The Kindness of Strangers began as charity based out of the UK. A year before I left, I held several events and raised 12,000 pounds. The money was distributed to local community organisations or NGOs (non-government organisations) at the places I cycled through. This work changed my perspective on life and how I would work in the future.

Good Times2: Where did the idea of making a tour social enterprise come from?

Brett Seychell: Someone read about the things I did for The Kindness of Strangers and requested to meet me. She wanted to know about the good places to volunteer and teach English in Cambodia. Based on what I learned in Cambodia and in other countries, I let her know that’s not the most effective way to help. I was able to give her some insight about how just having a cup of coffee with someone working on the ground allows further understanding. Then I thought to myself I should be doing that – listening and observing what people need because that’s what works and it’s how I began to develop a cycling social enterprise.

When you run out of road, but you just have to keep going, this is the Social Cycles way from Battambang to Siem Reap. Photo: Supplied

Good Times2: What is your overall concept?

Brett Seychell: Social Cycles is grassroots social enterprise with the premise of allowing our community partners to come up with their own solutions. A lot of people want hands-on experience in helping but don’t have two years to go around and do what I did. So I developed a condensed two-week holiday that lets my riders have the same experience I did over my two-year trek.

Good Times2: What is your dream cycling route?

Brett Seychell: I have already been to so many amazing places. I really enjoy Cambodia and Iran but I still have not had the opportunity to cycle South America. So, it’s my dream to get there.

Good Times2: What criteria do you use to select which organisations you will give funds to?

Brett Seychell: Long-term partnerships are key to the success of my social enterprise. I reach out through my partners who then can give me more recommendations for other NGOs. We have a strong relationship with Friends-International Cambodia. We have very strict guidelines on child protection policies for organisations we work with. We don’t visit schools or orphanages.

Good Times2: How can an interested NGO partner with you?

Brett Seychell: Our partner NGOs must conform to our child protection policies. At no time do Social Cycles engage or interact with children as part of an NGO learning experience. Our goal is to learn from adults about the challenges and solutions the NGOs can face. For NGOs to partner with us, they need to get in touch to start the conversation so that we can learn more about each other.

Good Times2: What has been the most inspiring thing you have learned through your journey?

Brett Seychell: The most inspired learnings have come from interactions with local people. Being offered a place to sleep and invited into the homes of a stranger for no purpose other than kindness. The most remarkable and incredible inspiration though, comes from the selfless and unsung heroes working hard at many grass-root NGOs for truly humble, genuine reasons.

Good Times2: Can you tell us a cool story about cycling around the world for two years?

Brett Seychell: Perhaps all the interesting places I would lay my head at night –from olive groves in Italy, a veterinarian’s surgery in Iran, mosques in Turkey, underneath bridges, on a pier, a cemetery and a number of others! I cycled through snow, deserts, forests and mountains. All in all, I covered over 28,000 kilometres across 26 countries over two years and two months.

Good Times2: Which have been your favorite and least favorite places to cycle?

Brett Seychell: My favorite places to cycle would be the countryside and remote areas of Cambodia, along the Tonle Sap and around Battambang. I also love cycling across Iran. The least favorite places to cycle are coming into the bigger cities on the wrong road. At times I found myself on the wrong lane in a four-lane highway coming into Istanbul at night!

A community gathering initiated by Social Cycles. Photo: Supplied

Good Times2: What are the best places to stay and eat when you are on tour?

Brett Seychell: Whilst on tour, I think it’s really important to rest somewhere comfortable, so we choose hotels that have air conditioning and great beds. Food is a great insight into a culture and we always eat local!

Good Times2: What are the things you notice people like best in each place they cycle through?

Brett Seychell: People like people. They form the richest memories. More than any dish you can eat, monument you can visit or landscape you can take a photograph of. It’s all about people and the interactions we have. This is how we learn and get to understand the depth and soul of a country.

Good Times2: What do you hope people would get from the cycling tour?

Brett Seychell: I hope people gain an understanding about responsible travel. The tours in Cambodia are designed to create an awareness about the ugly side of orphanage tourism where children can be exploited by irresponsible adults. The tourists, who are riders, soon come to a realisation that they have a role to play in creating a better world.

The tours are designed to not only be physically challenging. The riders are pushed to the edge of their comfort zone in so many ways. Quite often it takes weeks for the adventure to sink in.

Good Times2: What tips do you have for preparing to go on long tours?

Brett Seychell: The tours we run only go for 10 to 12 days. The way to handle some of the longer rides we do these days – where we ride at least 80 kilometres a day – is to never give up. Take it slowly and eventually you’ll get there. It is more often a mental game than anything else.

Good Times2: What things are essential for packing?

Brett Seychell: We recommend gloves, padded shorts and plenty of sunscreen! Don’t bring raincoats. It just doesn’t matter if it rains. The weather’s always warm and the rain can feel like a lovely shower!

Good Times2: What has surprised you most about this life transformation?

Brett Seychell: It’s an incredible journey and one that does not feel like it will end. I’m always learning about the world and a lot about myself. This transformation has made me become more aware of the wider world and the bigger picture.

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