Now that it is over, I’ve been searching for words to describe the challenge. It hasn’t been easy to sum up. It was an incredible experience on so many levels – personally, physically and emotionally. The most unforgettable part was the inspirational people we met along the way – the staff members at WildTeam, the challengers from all corners of the world and the Bangladeshi kids, families and communities along the way that we quickly became a part of.
I learnt many things along those 400 kilometres, but two things particularly stand out.
The first one was that the language of happiness is one which weall speak, and it is an underrated communication tool. It doesn’t matter what a person’s native language is; the infectious happiness of all the challengers as we stumbled, crashed and cycled our way through the villages of Bangladesh meant that it didn’t matter if we were from Bangladesh, Germany, Australia or anywhere else for that matter. We didn’t need to speak even a word because the smiles and laughs said it all.
Our smiles said to the people we passed – “Thank you, for welcoming us into your beautiful country. Thank you, for helping us to push our rickshaws up hills, for fixing our broken chains, for inviting us into your weddings when we’re waiting on the side of the road to get welding done on our rickshaws, for dismissing your students early so they can come and talk to us. Thank you, for the bunches of flowers, for the refreshing coconut drinks, for offering the only seats in your tea stands to us, for letting have lunchtime picnics in your fields and naps in your huts. Thank you, for appreciating our efforts. Thank you, for just being the way you are.”
The way that people’s faces lit up when they saw us pedaling seemed to reply – “Thank you, for coming to our beautiful country and experiencing it, seeing it, appreciating it the way we do. Let us help to push you up those hills, fix that chain that has snapped, don’t wait by the roadside – come in to this wedding that just started, say hello to the students that we are so proud of. Take these flowers to put in your hair, take a seat in the shade and have a tea with us, you look like you may have underestimated how hard a rickshaw is to pedal. Thank you for coming here to be with us. ”
The second thing that I learnt was that the best advocacy initiatives are achieved through a positive approach. There are many issues and problems in our world that you can get bogged down and feel like you cannot make a difference. Campaigns for many similar issues focus on using blame, guilt and scare tactics to get people to do what they want – but what these organizations do not seem to realise is that this feeling is only going to last for a short time or result in on-off contributions or efforts. A positive approach is what will get people inspired and motivated, and wanting to be involved for a longer time. The approach WildTeam used for this challenge is one which other organisations could learn from – get your audience onboard from the start, so they’re part of the action, feel the vibe and understand why the cause is important. Your audience will then spread your messages, no flashy media needed. Excite people by telling them what they can do, rather than what will happen if they don’t do something.
Bangladesh – thank for letting us into your homes, your hearts and your lives. We won’t forget you, and we hope you won’t forget us. We’ve got a common goal, to secure the future of the amazing Bengal Tiger. Lets make this the first challenge of many, and the first step towards using happiness as an advocacy tool 🙂