I’m SO excited to share this story with you today, because it’s about an awesome cause and person. I met Jay Berkes a few years ago in Buena Vista, Colorado, where he was working as a whitewater rafting guide.
Jay recently began an endeavor called The Haiti 100. In his words, it’s “a cross-country, self-supported, bicycle challenge… to educate communities across America of the struggle still taking place throughout the Republic of Haiti.”
In creating and completing this challenge, he has two goals. The fiscal goal is to raise enough money to support a primary school in rural Haiti in need of emergency funds. The school, Le Foyer, is an important resource for the impoverished communities of the area, and represents a major source of pride and progress.
The physical goal is to cycle a “Century Ride,” or 100 miles, every day that isn’t devoted to presentations, documentary screenings, and meetings.
He’s been biking from Colorado to New York for the past several weeks, and he anticipates finishing the physical challenge soon. I think that Jay’s project is incredibly cool, so I wanted to share it here. He graciously took time to participate in an interview, which I’ve included below. I’ll warn you, it’s long — but his answers are INSIGHTFUL and INSPIRATIONAL.
Hopefully, it’ll inspire you — to donate, to spread the word about this great cause, or to embark upon a similar journey of your own.
If nothing else, it should remind you of this memorable line by Anne Frank, “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to change the world!”
For more information, or to donate, visit Jay’s website.
Interview with Jay Berkes of The Haiti 100
What inspired you to do this?
Starting in October 2011, I spent about 7 months in Haiti working for a small NGO in rural Croix-des-Bouquets. I worked with the organization’s public health outreach program delivering medicine and providing consultations, their maternity ward assisting with deliveries and vaccinations, and their primary school teaching children english and physical education.
I returned to Colorado in May 2012 to manage the Colorado Adventure Center’s white water rafting operations, and to support myself for more volunteer work in Haiti. I found out prior to the end of the rafting season, however, that the school that the organization runs was not going to be opening for the fall semester due to a number of factors, the most of which being financial constraints.
My initial response was frustration. After living and working with these families, it’s easy to see how the cycle of poverty keeps people in difficult situations, and this school was a big symbol of progress for the communities in the area.
My second response was to figure out a solution. How could I raise enough money to support the school for a year or two while the organization regains the self-sustaining structure it held prior to the January 2010 earthquake? I saw two options: rob a bank, or ride my bicycle across the country to raise money. Prison would mess with my five year plan, so the bike ride won.
Why do you think it’s important?
Many people look at this trip and think/say “riding a bicycle won’t change the world,” or “how does a child in Haiti losing an education affect me?” The reality, however, is that in our increasingly complex world, it’s becoming easier and easier to ignore difficult issues, or simply remain apathetic to their solution.
I believe action is better than inaction.
Riding my bicycle 2,600 miles won’t change the world, but if I can raise 20% of my goal of $50,000 it will provide very poor people, who don’t have many options, to send their children to school for free for 2-3 more years. This trip will have a direct effect on families attempting to move themselves from a tough situation, but do not have the opportunity to do so.
How long did it take you from conceiving the idea to actually starting the ride?
About 1 month. [Editor’s note: DAMN. He’s quick!]
Are there any people that have been instrumental in your success?
I spend a lot of time away from my hometown, from my family and friends. Even when I was still living close to these people during college, I’d spend my free time and summers far from home. Without these people, however, I really worry about who I would have become. I grew up in a social environment that rewarded critical thinking, creativity, and risk taking. I still have nearly 15 close friends from high school that I regularly meet up with, and we don’t just rehash old memories — we challenge each other’s actions/successes/failures/
When I sit down for a family meal, we can cover everything from the ethics of the NFL, to the realities of health care in a third world, to the semantics of someone’s favorite comic strip. My core group of friends, my brothers and sister, my parents, my cousins and aunts and uncles, they all provide me with different perspectives and different challenges. Any success I have comes from those relationships.
Will you be returning to Le Foyer after you complete your ride?
Yes, I’m tied up with a few things in America through January, but I intend to spend next spring at Le Foyer.
What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far?
In terms of the bicycle ride, the biggest challenge was last night. I attempted to ride for 24 straight hours. [Editor’s note: Ummmm, WHAT?!?!] The route was Indianapolis to East Ohio, a very hilly but beautiful part of the country. With wind and rain blasting me in the face all day, I was worried I wouldn’t have the energy to push through the night. As night fell, the temperature dropped to below freezing, and every hour that passed was a hard fight.
I was moving through very rural parts of Ohio, navigating winding back roads through dark forests and deep valleys and around 4 am, I began to get very tired. I was seeing things running from the forest at me, freezing cold, almost falling off the bike as I dozed, and still dealing with really steep hills. I eventually made it to day break, but was very fatigued and fell asleep as I rode, ramming the bike into a street curb popping a tire and falling off the bike. I dealt with the tire, chugged some coffee, and made it the next 2 hours to hit my mark of 24 hours. Then I climbed into my sleeping bag covered in frost/ice for a well-deserved nap.
What’s been more difficult – the physical or fiscal aspect?
The financial aspect. I don’t mind physical discomfort as long as it has a purpose. Financial discomfort is far more demanding, psychologically, than physical discomfort.
How far are you in your fundraising goals?
I haven’t had more than 5 minutes of free time in the past 2 months, so I haven’t done a total count yet, but I believe I’ve raised at least $7,000 right now.
When do you anticipate being in New York?
November 20 [Editor’s note: NYC friends — lend a helping hand! Host Jay at your school or organization; I’m sure they’d love it.]
What is the best way that people can help you out?
Host a presentation with your school, church, or private organization. I present on the challenges that face Haitian families in an interesting way that incorporates the audience quite a bit, and has received a very positive response so far. The biggest way to help the school? Financial contribution through the website. The site offers about 5 different convenient ways to donate.
I really appreciate Jay taking the time from his INSANELY busy schedule to chat about his amazing journey. If you’ve got some spare change, please consider donating to his cause. Every little bit helps!
If you’re along his route, invite him to come and speak at your school, church, or organization. Jay can be reached at jayjober (at) gmail (dot) com. Don’t forget to check out his website.