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At a glance: Syrian Arab Republic

Fundraising cyclists visit UNICEF child-friendly space in Syria

© UNICEF Syria/2010/Rashidi
Fundraising cyclists from Norway arrive at the UNICEF-supported child-friendly space in Qudsaya, Syria.

By Rob Sixsmith

DAMASCUS, Syrian Arabic Republic, 23 February 2010 – Fundraisers worldwide go to extraordinary lengths to help UNICEF alleviate child suffering. And going to great lengths is something Andreas Doppelmayer, Øyvind Handberg and Jørn Pedersen – three UNICEF fundraisers from Norway – know a lot about. They are cycling roughly 20,000 kilometres from Norway to South Africa in a bid to raise $84,000  for UNICEF education projects.

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By the time the cyclists reach their final destination, they will have passed through some 20 countries and spent more than a year on the road.

Six months into their trip – and passing through the Syrian Arabic Republic – the fundraisers recently took time to rest and visit a UNICEF-funded child-friendly space in Qudsaya, a sprawling suburb on the outskirts of Damascus, the Syrian capital. Qudsaya is home to many refugees who have fled violence in Iraq since 2003.

"Since we are cycling to raise money for UNICEF, it's inspiring to actually go to see UNICEF work," said Mr. Doppelmayer.

The road to Damascus

Touring the lively refugee project in Qudsaya, the Norwegian team got a sense of the invaluable gains UNICEF and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent have made on behalf of the children and families living there.

"This project seems to get good results and it's run very professionally," said Mr. Doppelmayer. "It's nice to see that it's possible to really help children even though they had a really difficult past."

Through centres like the one in Qudsaya, UNICEF and its partners have worked to stabilize the lives of child refugees, who are often hardest-hit by conflict. The centres offer a safe place for children to play and create.

"These spaces serve as a referral point where the most vulnerable cases are identified for specialized psycho-social support," said Dr. Theodora Tsovili, a UNICEF Syria project manager. "We appreciate the efforts of all UNICEF fundraisers, as they reflect the international community's support of our work," she added.

Floods, snow and dogs

Since August 2009, the fundraisers have traversed Finland, Russia, Ukraine, Romania, Bulgaria, Moldova and Turkey, braving floods, snow and wild dogs. They've spent nights in sheds and days cycling along the ancient Silk Road.

During their visit to the refugee centre in Qudsaya, the cyclists entertained the centre's children and volunteers with tales of their adventures.

You can follow the Norwegian team's progress and read their stories at www.bikecape2cape.com. A documentary about their journey will appear on Norwegian television early next year.




January 2010: UNICEF correspondent Eduardo Cure reports on a visit by three Norwegian fundraising cyclists to a UNICEF-funded child-friendly space in Qudsaya, Syria.
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