The 45-day charity trip saw them cycle through seven countries to the benefactors of their fundraising drive: a safe village for orphans and widows. By Omar Shahid.
This time last year, as the Syrian conflict flared and showed no signs of waning, Hassan al-Husari, a 19-year-old Scottish Muslim, had a dream. His daring idea was to cycle to Syria to raise funds for its suffering people.
It was an idea that sounded crazy to others but brilliant to him. In fact, when he first broke the news of his plan, many of his friends and family laughed, told him it was “impossible”, to “get real” and some even called him “insane”.
Yet in May, along with an intrepid team of eight British cyclists, Hassan set out from Scotland on a gruelling 45-day cycling trip. His once-distant dream was on its way to becoming a vivid reality.
Earlier this week, after completing their gruelling journey, Hassan and his team finally returned home. “I believed in myself and, alhamdulillah, we did it,” says Hassan. “It’s funny because a few of the people who were laughing at my idea actually ended up coming on the trek with me.”
Their epic journey, which had never been done before, saw the team of cyclists travel 5,300 km (3,300 miles) across the UK into France, followed by Switzerland, Italy, Greece, Turkey and finally to the Syrian border. In the face of tough and terrifying weather adversaries such as hailstones, lightning and scorching heat, they soldiered on past mountainous terrain and their own mental barriers.
On the fifth day of the journey one of the cyclists, Rameez Mahmood, 19, fell off his bike and was run over by a teammate. His severe injuries and infected wounds put him out of action for three days. Refusing to listen to the advice of the medical team, he hopped back on his bike. The conviction of knowing his pain pales in comparison to those suffering in Syria pushed him to begin pedalling again.
“It was lucky I was run over by Akram, who was the smallest guy on the trek,” Rameez laughs. “The whole journey was tough, not just because of my injuries, but because most of us were complete strangers to each other. After an exhausting 19-hour day, we would have to set up a campsite, wash pots and pans and prepare food. So sometimes we got angry, demoralised and had arguments at night. We just had to remind ourselves why we were doing this, because it was never about us – it was always about the Syrians.”
Last year Hassan approached Human Appeal, a British charity, with his trek idea. They helped him to develop a campaign and recruit 25 other cyclists, eight of whom agreed to do the full trek. At the start of 2014 the cyclists began training and, later, made great personal sacrifices to see the dream through. Sufyan Rashid missed his university graduation to participate, while Akram Abouaesha quit his job.
“This was the first time something like this has ever been done,” Hassan says. “It was extremely tough.” But the journey, of course, was not in vain. “We did this to raise money to build a village in Syria for orphans and widows. When we arrived in Syria and met the people we had been doing this for, it was all worth it, it was so emotional. We want to thank everyone – people right across the world – for their fantastic support. Thank you for helping us raise tens of thousands of pounds.”
Hassan plans to do it all over again next year, having received great interest by many who would like to join him. Sufyan says he had the time of his life, adding: “It wasn’t too bad missing my graduation after all. But I’m just happy to be back home; I missed my family and friends. Saying that, I would definitely do it again.”
Will you be joining him?
The team are still accepting donations to benefit orphans and widows in Syria. You can do your bit by visiting: www.justgiving.com/cyclefromscotlandtosyria/
Photos courtesy of the Cycle from Scotland to Syria Facebook page