Get on your bike, Principal Byrne

Barnet and Southgate College principal David Byrne got on his bike to raise £5,500 for a cause close to his heart as he rode across the African bush, writes Billy Camden.

Long-time motorcycling enthusiast David Byrne took to the African road last month and travelled 1140km across the Zambian bush to raise awareness and funds for healthcare charity Riders for Health (Riders).

The Barnet and Southgate College principal spent the nine-day expedition visiting remote villages to see how the charity — which provides health workers in Africa with the vehicles and maintenance skills to get health care out into rural communities — operates.

David Byrne with Zambian children

David Byrne with Zambian children

Being welcomed by greeting songs and smiles, he described the experience as “very humbling and inspiring”.

“It was fantastic,” said Mr Byrne. “We saw these kids and people with absolutely nothing and you see their ingenuity and what they create and how they go about their life and the sort of challenges they face.”

A highlight for the principal was the joy on children’s faces as he rolled up on his motorbike.

“It was amazing seeing the kids’ reactions,” he said.

“The deeper we went into the bush, they would hear the noises from the engine on the bikes and these kids would pop their heads out of maize fields and just wave at us and clap.”

Mr Byrne first got involved with the charity after being encouraged by his students following a talk about poverty and world globalisation which mentioned Riders.

“The students thought it was really cool and that spurred me on to find out a bit more and effectively put my name down,” he said.

Since he signed up last year, students and staff around the college held a “galvanising force” of fundraising activities including bake sales, general entrepreneurial activities and an ice bucket challenge which culminated to around £5,500 being raised so far.

A hut that doubles-up as a school and healthcare centre in Zambia

A hut that doubles-up as a school and healthcare centre in Zambia

During his time in the villages, Mr Byrne heard from the elders about how the charity works and has improved the access to care and the lives of people who have been injured, sick or pregnant.

In some areas, schools and health centres share the same small hut where doctors deliver the care. And in many of those villages residents walk up to 10km journeys if they know a doctor will be in the vicinity.

Mr Byrne said: “Once you are off the main central carriageway you are onto the dirt tracks, and I mean dirty dirt tracks, littered with pot holes, sand, very narrow access routes, rocks and an eroded surface thanks to the rain and their animals.

“A motorcycle can cover more challenging terrain than a 4X4. It is cheaper to maintain, it is easier on the fuel and it is easier to get serviced than a car, which is why this charity is important.”

The money raised by Mr Byrne will purchase a brand new motorcycle for the doctors and nurses as well as buying subsidiary medical and housing equipment.

He now plans on delivering a number of road shows to his students, talking about his experiences and how to overcome adversity.

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Main pic: Barnet and Southgate College principal David Byrne prepares to visit the Zambian bush