As is often the case having spent the last 15 days focused on the goal of completing the cycling challenge afterwards there is both a sense of anti-climax and a feeling something has gone missing.
One of the great things about cycling over reasonable distances is that life is very simple, you have to focus on getting the job done and everything revolves around that. In this case tasks such as eating, applying sunscreen, bike maintenance and taking anti-malaria tablets were all supporting activities. At the end of the Challenge it was time to become less focused and consider the wider issues again.
After the obligatory cold beer and warm shower - not at the same time - Chris took me to meet Paul Cleves who founded the Saigon Children’s Charity in 1992. He studied geography at Cambridge and later taught at Eton where the idea of connecting his teaching life with his "travelling life" formed and the charity was born, focusing on the educational needs of the most disadvantaged children in order to achieve positive change for them. He ended up living in Vietnam running the charity full time in 1995. In 2004 Paul’s contribution to disadvantaged children was recognised and he was awarded the MBE. In 2007 he handed on the reins to another Paul - Paul Finnis. As you might imagine he still remains actively involved as a trustee of the Charity and continues to live in Vietnam (Ho Chi Minh city).
Meeting Paul was slightly surreal, after having cycled across three countries eating a variety of different cuisines, Paul served us bread, cheese and tomatoes for lunch. (I must also mention the unshelled quails eggs - delicious but way too fiddly for a starving cyclist.) It was like being transported back to England and it was delicious. During lunch Paul filled us in on the details and background to his achievements.
I cannot really do justice to the work they do so I recommend you spend a bit of time on the website - http://www.saigonchildren.com/. Having witnessed some of the poverty at first hand it is humbling to see what can be achieved.
Later on we met with the current director of the charity Paul Finnis - sorry my picture of Paul F does not really do him justice. He has a background of working in the English voluntary and community sector with organisations such as Age Concern, Mencap and the Mental Health Foundation. Most recently he has been working as a consultant to a wide range of charities helping them with income generation, developing strategies, research, planning and management. He has now returned to the sharp end of "doing it" rather than "telling others how to do it". He has been in the role for around 18months and is certainly passionate and articulate about his role.
He also wanted me to pass along his personal thanks to those people who have kindly donated to the charity.
Afterwards Mary, Jim, Chris and I had a celebratory dinner at a local restaurant. I guess we were all a little distracted with the imminent return to the real world - although for me I was going to head off to Ha Noi to stay with my brother for a couple of days.