By Heather Monk

When I met Peter in August 2016 and visited Baan Tharn Namchai, I could never have imagined just how much this experience would alter the course of my life.

When I walked into the home that day, pencils and sketch books in hand for the kids, I was apprehensive about what I might find. At that stage in my life I had been through a huge personal life-change, my mind was consumed with a range of ‘first world problems’ and I selfishly wondered whether visiting the home would be too sad or confronting. What I discovered when I walked through the front gate, greeted by an outstretched hand of a tiny little girl, was a home filled with love, music and laughter- a really big family!

I’ve never been able to pinpoint the exact moment that changed me, but what I do know is that my perspective on life would never be the same. Through the experience of being in the home, witnessing the love and care given to the children and the apparent joy and contentment that existed within these little people, who has seemingly lost everything, I learned a very important lesson…

Gratitude.

I spent most of that day with tears running down my face. Not because I was sad, but because I was overwhelmed with gratitude. I was grateful that there were good people in the world who get off their backside and help other people. I was grateful that despite my so-called problems, I could see that I have an incredibly privileged life, surrounded by amazing friends and family. I felt grateful that my new found circumstances afforded me time and space and presented an opportunity to take a different path and give back to the world. So I did.

Over the next months there were ‘a series of very fortunate events’ that ultimately led to me joining the Hands family. That is a whole story on its own, but perhaps one of the best decisions I made during this time was to register for the Ride to Provide in January 2018.

When I committed to the ride, it wasn’t the $10K fundraising that daunted me… I knew I had support around me to help me raise the money and a good fundraising plan in place. What scared me the most was getting on a bike and riding 800km!!

But in January this year I completed my very first 800km Hands ride. I was fortunate to be able to share this experience with my good friend Noy Everson and her 14 year old son Kyan, who through my fundraising and training journey, were inspired to learn about Hands and join the ride as well. For anyone who has contemplated joining us on a ride and there has been something holding you back…. my advice is, register and don’t look back!! You will never regret it, this I promise you.

The experience of riding was like no other. Not only did I complete the entire 800km, what was incredible about this is that the riding itself somehow became secondary to the experience of being surrounded by a group of remarkable people from all different paths in life who had been brought together in support of this amazing cause.

Yes, every day consisted of getting hot and sweaty, dirty and the physical challenge of a full day of cycling… but what I wasn’t prepared for was how enjoyable this would turn out to be! Each morning we would ride out in the cool morning air, the local villagers still asleep, birds chirping as we rolled out along the Mekong River (these beautiful mornings were one of my favourite things on the ride). Our days were spent tackling each leg together. Some short and easy, some long and challenging, but all achievable because of the support and comradery within the group. We rode together from rest stop to rest stop, which meant time for great food, music, chatter and laughter and even the odd deep and meaningful! In the evenings, we shared dinner, reflected on the days achievements and had a beer and a good belly laugh at each others expense : ) By day 7, there was a new feeling of sadness that arrived, as I realised the ride would soon be over….

But as all good things do come to an end, this experience has a beautiful ending. On day 8 we rode into Home Hug to be greeted by smiles, music and dancing with the children who we had all ridden 800km to support. One of the most remarkable elements of this experience was witnessing young Tao (a 13 yr old boy with HIV who lives at home hug) ride across the finish line with us after completing the full 800km at our side. His tiny legs and huge smile pedalled every km beside us. Again, for the second time in my journey with Hands I was overcome with this familiar emotion…..

Gratitude.

The thing about a Hands ride is that although you set out to raise money for an amazing cause and give back to the world, what actually occurs in the process is quite remarkable…. through giving back to others, you actually give back more to yourself. Not only was it an incredible way to see Thailand, I was fulfilled by the sense of achievement and the knowledge of the impact I had made on the children lives. But the unexpected gift? I now have many new friends…a new family. A group of amazing people who each left their world behind for for a while to share a challenge, laughter and an a unique experience that will stay with them forever.

In simple terms, it is a life changing experience.