A bicycle adventure for Burma

"The Codger" concludes trip at his alma mater

- August 19, 2011

Alumnus Rod Germaine winds down his cross-country adventure in front of the Weldon Law Building. (Nick Pearce photo)
Alumnus Rod Germaine winds down his cross-country adventure in front of the Weldon Law Building. (Nick Pearce photo)

Sixty-three days – that’s how long it took Dalhousie law alumnus Rod Germaine to travel 6,049 km by bike to Halifax from his home in Vancouver.

That averages out to about 96 km a day – not an easy undertaking, let alone for a senior who nicknamed himself “The Codger” on his trip blog.

But Mr. Germaine is no ordinary individual, and he had more than just a little motivation for the trip. He was doing it to fundraise for his non-profit organization, Just Aid, which raises money in support of the Mao Tao Clinic and the Back Pack Health Worker Team (BPHWT) in Burma. The clinic sits on the border between Burma and Thailand and provides medical care to internally displaced people, while the BPHWT trains local Burmese people to act as paramedics in conflict and cease-fire zones.

In front of various former classmates and teachers on the front steps of the Weldon Law Building on Tuesday, Mr. Germaine celebrated his arrival in Halifax with a little champagne and words of thanks to his supporters over the course of the last two months.

'Haunted' by Burma

It wasn’t the first time Mr. Germaine, who runs an arbitration and mediation practice in Vancouver, had traveled far from home. The former lawyer has traversed the globe throughout his career, living in Asia for eight and a half years and working in places like Singapore and Hong Kong, which gave him the opportunity to travel extensively throughout the continent.

For the most part, he says, the experience was wonderful. But out of all the places he traveled, he could not forget about what he had witnessed in Burma.

“It haunted me,” says Mr. Germaine, who graduated from Dalhousie in 1971. “It is a stunning place physically, the people are amazing, but it is being operated by a small group of military personnel as their own personal fiefdom.”

Mr. Germaine is referring to a decades-long conflict that has raged since the country’s last democratically elected government was overthrown in a military coup in 1962. Burma has since had a series of authoritarian governments that have committed innumerable human rights abuses, producing millions of refugees and internally displaced people who lack proper food, shelter, and access to medicine.

Ten years ago, inspired in part by a fellow Dalhousie law alumnus who started his own charity in support of Africa, Mr. Germaine decided to put on a golf tournament in order to raise funds for Burmese medical aid. His organization has since grown to hold various fundraisers throughout the year, and has raised a total of $350,000 in support of the Mao Tao Clinic, and BPHWT.

A decision to 'shut up and do it'

The idea for the bike ride had always been in the back of his mind. In the eighties, Mr. Germaine biked from Vancouver to Mexico with a friend to attend the Olympics, and had been wanting to make a cross-country trek ever since.

He decided that this year, it was time to “just shut up and do it.” He left the Vancouver Seabus terminal on June 2, ending in Halifax on August 7, just in time to attend his law school class reunion. Soe Naing, a friend of Mr. Germaine’s and a refugee from Burma, also cycled with him from Vancouver to Toronto.

Mr. Germaine recounted with gratitude the generosity of everyone who followed his ride on his blog and made pledges, as well as the strangers he met along the way who gladly donated money, hotel rooms and meals upon hearing about his journey.

Tin Maung Htoo, executive director of Canadian Friends of Burma, flew into Halifax for the welcome reception. Himself a refugee from Burma, he has known Mr. Germaine for years and emphasizes the importance of individuals and communities bringing attention to the conflict in Burma. “It highlights the situation and encourages the government to stay involved.”

Wind at his back

But Mr. Germaine would be remiss if he didn’t admit to also enjoying the experience for the sake of the ride itself. “There were several occasions when the wind was at my back, the sun was shining, and it was just a wonderful bicycling experience,” he says.

And while he doesn’t have an exact number yet, he expects his ride will have raised as much as $35,000 dollars. Not bad for an ‘old codger’.

To read more about Rod Germaine’s trip, visit his blog at www.justride2011.com. You can also make a donation and read more about Burma, the Mao Tao Clinic, and Back Pack Health Worker Team on his website www.justaid.ca


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