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Zimbabwean white man raises US$100 000 for Bulawayo and Harare pensioners

01 Jul 2020 at 13:51hrs | Views
Hotelier, farmer, writer, adoptive father of three, and amateur cyclist Eric de Jong is a man with stories to tell. And don't be fooled by his self-deprecation – he might not be a youth but is certainly youthful in his outlook and action.

Take this week for example. Apart from running his 40 hectare flower farm in Mount Darwin, Eric will set off on the 2020 edition of the Old Legs Tour – his annual sponsored bike ride to raise money for pensioners in Zimbabwe.

"We were meant to pedal the skeleton coast in Namibia but because of the pandemic have mapped a route within our borders," says Eric who describes an excruciating 3,186km, 37 day bike ride around Zimbabwe that will take him and three others through cities and towns, along rough dirt roads, railway lines, and deep into the wilderness including all major national parks where they will ride with handheld foghorns to drive off any dangerous animals that might take an interest in meals on wheels.

"This is our third Old Legs Tour," says Eric. "In 2018 we rode Harare to Cape Town and in 2019 to Kilimanjaro. Each year we get more people joining and manage to raise more money than the year before." Eric is proud that despite a difficult fundraising environment, they have already pulled a wheelie past their US$100.000 goal.

"Now I'd like to smash US$200.000. The money goes to the elderly in Zimbabwe, many of whom have no income and no support. Donations go directly to Bulawayo Help Network Trust and Pensioners Aid Harare and the money is life changing for some of the pensioners who might be getting ZWL300 a month."

A ride of this magnitude requires planning and training, and Eric is surrounded by boxes and tins and packages of all sorts as he speaks.

"Since I started this, we've had people joining in from the Netherlands, Germany, South Africa and the USA. None of us are professionals, though of course we must train for this as 120km every day for six weeks takes its toll. We try to do the first half before breakfast each morning and spread the rest out in between lots of snacking and drinking," says Eric, who is a self-described jelly baby fiend.

Eric's 2020 training was interrupted when he fell off his bike while recording a video diary on his phone and broke a rib, but he is ready to push on under his personal motto ‘have fun, do good, do epic' which makes The Old Legs Tour so special to him.

"We laugh and laugh, see the most amazing things, and raise money for a good cause too," he said.

When he's off the saddle, Eric grows flowers which he exports to the Netherlands via the weekly KLM flights out of Harare.

"I moved to farming because I wanted to be closer to the three children that we adopted after their mum died of cancer," says Eric who tells how he and his wife Jenny responded to a TV message from Rose, a dying woman who appealed for someone to care for her young children. He was a trained hotelier with shares in hotels and safari camps which he sold in 1992 before diving into floriculture which he learned on the job.

Eric's resilience and adaptability comes partly from his mother who was born to Dutch parents in a Japanese concentration camp during the second World War. His father was born in Hilversum in the Netherlands and moved here in the 1950s when many Dutch people emigrated to the region.

Eric is a regular blogger and this year published a book ‘Running Dogs and Rose's Children', the dramatic story of his family's life. In August 2020, he will publish ‘Cape Town to Kilimanjaro', detailing his Old Legs Tour adventures to date, followed in 2021, by his first novel, ‘War and Other Social Diseases'. "I love writing," says Eric, "and I'm just getting going."

Two books, an epic bike ride, and more than a hundred thousand dollars raised for charity. That's a well-spent lockdown Eric!

Source - Dutch Embassy
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