Pedalling away to life with happiness and no obstacles…
Cyclists of “Pedalling Without Obstacles” catch the breeze, meet the sun or watch the raindrops falling from the sky with the children they take out for a ride…
Mr. Samet Aksuoğlu pushed the conventional boundaries of cycling and turned the bicycle into a means of communication that a disabled person is able to use simultaneously with a healthy person
Pedal away and call it adventure
Pedal a way and call it freedom
Pedal away and call it kindness
You do not believe that cycling can be an act of kindness? A group of college students have been actually doing that and generating a wave of kindness that involves some fun, some joy and lots of action.
As the initiators of this movement, Samet Aksuoğlu and his friends have created something, which is exhausting but joyful just as well. Regardless of their young age, their selfless endeavour elated everyone.
Actually it all starts with a cup of tea. One summer night Samet and his friends hit the road to go make a camp. With an unexpected downpour they make a stop in a tea garden. Penniless students they are they cannot afford to have some tea and start to negotiate the price with the owner. A fellow customer eavesdropping offers to pay for them. “Your teas are on me guys, I will treat you. Come have a seat” he says kindly. Initially embarrassed by a total stranger`s kindness they cannot, however, turn down the offer and settle in one of the tables. Soon their kind sponsor walks up to their table and strikes up a conversation. Samet and his friends tell about their college life and that they came here to camp. The gentleman, who treated them to tea and was impressed by their energy and cheerful attitude after they had a chat, was Uğur Küçükşahin. During their conversation it came up that Küçükşahin had a 12-year-old daughter named Ceyda, who was not able to walk as she was suffering from spina bifida. Hence Küçükşahin asks a favour from Samet and his friends that is to meet his daughter. They gladly agree and exchange phone numbers promising to meet again. So although they do not know it yet this tea garden serves as the first place where the seeds of kindness were sown.
Before long these young men go to meet Ceyda who tells them about her difficulties when she goes out like all other children with special needs. She tells them about the inefficient design of the roads, the obstacles, and passer-by’s blank stares.
Indeed Ceyda and her peers ask one simple favour: to share the same sky with the rest of the people. That is the only thing they ask for and Samet does exactly that by creating this movement of kindness.
Samet also is a passionate cyclist. Cycling is the biggest thing in his life. Living in Istanbul, he goes to college, market, or cafe by bicycle. Just around the time he meets young Ceyda he is preparing for the BicycleFilm Festival Istanbul. For this purpose festival committee gives him a customized bicycle with Dutch style body. One day as he is handing out the festival`s leaflets Uğur Küçükşahin’s small daughter Ceyda crosses his mind and he thinks, “Why do I not take her on a ride with my bike.” To realize this idea he takes along a friend of his and they set off. He tells his mind to Ceyda`s father. Küçükşahin works as the driver of a bank manager. “Brother Uğur, just like you are someone else`s private chauffeur, we want to become Ceyda`s chauffeur.” Ceyda’s parents are hesitant initially. But they finally give in to these kind young men who came all the way just to make their daughter happy. They place a cushion on bicycle’s carrier and seat Ceyda on top. Then they take Ceyda on a splendid tour of Istanbul. She enjoys riding freely on winding alleys passing through the people and between the cars. So this one bicycle removes all the obstacles before her. Perhaps getting on a bicycle was something she could not even dream of but now that someone makes it real for her she hangs onto life even stronger. Hence Samet becomes Ceyda`s private chauffeur as he puts it.
So Samet`s rides with Ceyda spreads through the word of mouth and families get in touch with Samet asking him to take their disabled children on a ride too. So Samet becomes private chauffeur of many children all at once. As much as he can make time from his classes in college he takes children with disabilities, with leukaemia, with autism on a tour by bicycle. After a while he figures out he needs more volunteers and more bikes to make more children happy. With that idea in mind he and his friends set out to establish an organization. Although they face some difficulties at first this movement of kindness catches on many other people and number of volunteers rise to hundreds.
The organization’s name is as special as its founders: Organization of Pedalling Without Obstacles.
The number of volunteers grows day by day thanks to the organization’s stellar activities. So they first identify the volunteer cyclists. Samet calls them private chauffeurs. Once a volunteer decides to become one the organization gives them training which consists of ten steps supervised by psychologists and teachers. The first lesson is on how to address children. The volunteers are educated on how to treat children before professional cyclists train them on traffic; technical aspects and emergency aid. The volunteers who complete the training sit for an exam. Only those who pass the exam qualify to become a `private chauffeur`. The tours are done by two private chauffeurs. While one of them checks on the traffic the other takes the child on a tour on the bike. The volunteers also bring toys, chocolates and similar gifts to the child.
The bicycles used by Organization of Pedalling Without Obstacles in these trips are custom made. Therefore they are very costly. Nonetheless with the help of volunteers and fundraising events like charity festivals, charity concerts, kermesse and live cycling performances they keep pedalling away for disabled children. They do it for children whom they never met before and with no benefits in return. They work toward creating that joyful smile on the faces of more disabled children and reaching more volunteer cyclists.
This project initiated by Samet Aksuoğlu became a huge voluntary organization, which has been organizing and facilitating bike tours for sight-impaired children since 2011. And they have expanded it to orthopedically impaired children in 2013. Their efforts helped disabled children who cannot go out due to their physical impairments mix in the society and meet the outside world. So they serve as a window for these children to see the outside world.
They work toward involving whole Turkey in this movement of kindness, which spreads over rapidly. The children who go out on a bike tour with them catch the breeze, meet the sun and watch the raindrops falling from the sky.
Got Fellow Travellers Everywhere
Another charity project realized by Samet and the volunteers is My Fellow Traveller which is also organized by Pedals without Disabilities. The project involves volunteers taking physically impaired children on a camping trip to enjoy the birds chirping in the forest, or on a fishing trip by the lake. They pitch their tents in the camp, build a fire and cook their food and enjoy sleeping under the open sky together. So these people, who would never have the chance to meet outside, come together for a long journey. Sometimes they travel from one city to another; sometimes they climb the mountains; sometimes they breathe the fresh air in the highlands together. By doing all these what they are trying to do is show that if the means are provided these wonderful people called disabled are able to do anything. Indeed it is true. One day Samet asks his sight-impaired friend who is studying in Bosphorus University, “How about we take a trip to Van Lake?” They make their minds quickly and load their bicycles on a bus headed to Van thus set off. In January and in -10 C degrees they cycle around Lake Van. It proves to be a great experience for these two buddies. They ride a tandem bicycle for two, which is brought in from Netherlands, thanks to the help of donors. Tandems have pedals for two. So they pedal away to life together. Samet shows that the distinction we make between disabled and abled is a matter of mindset. The only thing to do is to get rid of these thoughts.
Soup without Obstacles
The charity work these kind and voluntary people do is not limited to that. They also distribute soup to the homeless on the streets at night, which they call Soup Without Obstacles Campaign. They fill soup made by volunteers in the flasks and ride through Istanbul streets in the heat and in the breeze be it summer or winter. While Istanbulites sleep in their beds they enjoy the indescribable pleasure of sharing.
“We cannot turn a blind eye to the people in trouble” is their motto, which triggered this campaign. The only thing they want to achieve is to raise awareness about thousands of people sleepin g rough on the streets and the refugees who are trying to survive in squalor miles away from their home.
Now they have the support of their disabled friends who are beyond happy to be no longer in the receiving end but helping out others as well. Participating in charity work boosts the disabled young people`s confidence as they share the joy of giving that make them hold onto life with more passion as an individual.
Every Thursday is Thursday Without Obstacles where they exchange experience with the disabled people about how to communicate with homeless and refugees and what to avoid while doing that.
Samet Aksuoğlu and his friends changed the definition of bicycle with their charity efforts. It went from being a means of sports, fun and transportation to being a means of communication and sharing. It connected abled and disabled persons and their bond became stronger and grew into a strong friendship through that bicycle.
The flame of kindness burned by Samet and the volunteers has already grown into a big fire of endless rings. Through their amazing ideas and acts of kindness they showed us that everybody can coexist regardless of their physical disposition.