One thousand kms for Urugay´s Children - A huge success
Uruguay, December 9, 2007 - At 08h30 on 12 November 2007 the town square of Bella Unión in the northern most tip of Uruguay was buzzing with excitement. The population of this quaint border town had gathered to cheer the “UNICEF cabalgata”, leaving on a four-week ride to cross the country on horseback. Led by UNICEF’s Representative, Tom Bergmann-Harris, the team included members of Uruguay’s Scouts, riders from all walks of life, and, of course, the hardy, brave Criollo horses. They set off on their epic journey of one thousand kilometres with the mission to visit many rural schools and interact with pupils and teachers, to better ascertain their needs, discover their dreams and hopes, and hear about their problems and fears. Each school visited and those invited to attend the big event were to receive a small library to encourage reading, as a very concrete step towards better education. As many rural children still travel to school on horseback sometimes up to 2 hours, it was only fitting that this interactive field trip would be undertaken on horseback, too.
The riding was gruelling. The riders had to spend many hours in the saddle every day for four consecutive weeks, covering distances of up to 48 kilometres in the heat and rain. But the lack of sleep and all pains and bruises quickly disappeared as the colourful and celebrated arrival at each school and the warm welcome by children, teachers and parents made it all worthwhile. These schools, these children no longer felt forgotten. As one of the teachers said to Tom, it was the first time in her 22 years of service that anyone had come to ask about their needs, listen to their problems and learn about their dreams. It would be impossible not to be touched by the children’s enthusiasm and excitement, the tangible opening of these curious minds as they interacted with the foreign visitors and dived into their new libraries. A very talented storyteller from UNICEF transported the children into the wonders of reading and they then had an opportunity to add their own thoughts and ideas to the “Travelling Book” that accompanied the horse trail from school to school.
Week one blurred into riding, children, schools, and smiles, as the group crossed the provinces of Artigas and Salto. Saturday, 24 of November marked the halfway point: 500 km in the saddle! The riders were now travelling through the provinces of Paysandú, Río Negro and Soriano. Week two also saw different faces joining. After already having had international participants from the Netherlands and Namibia, the riders were joined by the World Bank Representative (from Israel), the US Ambassador and the South African Embassy’s Chargé d’Affaires in Uruguay. By now the rumours of the travelling programme was spreading across the country and as the anticipation heightened the impact increased.
All of this would not have been possible without the excellent support provided by the Uruguayan Army, a tour operator specialized in horse riding (“Recorriendo Uruguay”) and the provincial governments, not to forget UNICEF’s team on the ground who worked tirelessly day by day to ensure the logistical nightmare did not translate into manor problems for the riders and their horses.
The horses, the “Travelling Book”, the colourful flags and many new and more riders will finally reach their destination in Montevideo on Sunday, 9 December when they arrive at Parliament and share their rural stories with the capital city.