A Barber, a Barista and Their Bicycling Dream

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Beginning on April 3rd, 2009, two brothers will begin a round-the-world bicycle trip to raise money with which to aid orphans in India. The expedition will begin in Bellingham, Washington, and head east. Their goal is to raise $2 million and 100% of the money will support the cause. Andrew and Randall Leese are covering their individual travel expenses.

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This is a dream I've had for two years

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Bellingham, Washington -- Starting in April, 2009, brothers Andrew and Randall Leese will begin circling the globe at the speed of life -- by bicycle. And when they roll into southern India sometime in 2010, they want to give the pledge money they're collecting to an orphanage there.

Barber Andrew, 29, and barista Randall, 21, have been saving to cover their own expenses during what they plan as a two-year, 25,000-mile tour through 25 countries.

"This is a dream I've had for two years," says Andrew, who lives in Bellingham. "Doing it as a fundraiser was kind of an afterthought. But after I emailed my brother, he jumped all over it and we decided to do it together. "

In recent months, Andrew, a Western Washington University computer science graduate, has set up a nonprofit entity, International Orphan Fund, to collect money with which to aid the Servi Domini Orphanage in Palayamkottai, India. This organization is in the application process for 501(c)(3) status.

The Web site he built for the trip describes the upcoming adventure as a "no-overhead" fund drive, with all funds raised for the benefit of the orphanage. About a half of the initial $10,000 goal has been met.

"It's a fundraiser for purists. We hope that will make it more appealing to people, especially in these tough economic times," Andrew says.

Randall adds, "We're essentially shelling out $30,000 of our own money to ensure that every penny donated to the orphanage really goes to its needs. Too many organizations recycle a significant percentage of their revenue into their own operation. We don't like that. As for us, we're basically bicycle delivery boys whose sense of adventure is totally disproportionate to the task at hand."

Randall's main ulterior motivation for making this trip is a simple, ingrained curiosity for the unexplored--about the world as a whole: "My sense of adventure, my eager curiosity, were definitely seeded in early childhood with tales from Herge (Tintin), Andrew Lang, and the Brothers Grimm, among others. Books have always been a subtle, yet irresistible invitation to travel and seek one's fortune, as it were, abroad. Now, like knights and adventurers of old, we go to fight dragons in the forms of poverty and bureaucracy."

Randall said he has put the University of Washington on hold for the past two or three years, but plans to go eventually. His interests are broad, but tend toward the humanities, he said. Both brothers agree that travel is one of the best educations.

"How did we choose to sponsor this particular orphanage? It happens to be the extraordinary nature of its beginnings that inspired us," the Web site explains.

A young Indian woman, Swarna Vongala, who went to college in Iowa and got a high-paying job after finishing her degree in computer engineering, founded the orphanage in 2001. She left her job, returned to India and began combing the streets for people in desperate straits. She soon set up an orphanage and was helping mostly young orphans and some elderly people.

Swarna later traveled to Italy to join a small Roman Catholic order, the Consoling Sisters of the Sacred Heart. She and a few members of the order run the orphanage now, with 30 children and three elderly people in their care.

The Leese brothers want to spend at least a month at the orphanage, helping however they can. En route, they plan to visit at least 10 orphanages to offer their assistance, "even if it's just doing haircuts for kids," Andrew says.

Both young men are no strangers to long-distance biking, budget travel and volunteer work. They grew up in a family of six children as the fourth generation working a Whidbey Island farm. Randall still lives on the farm and commutes 20-30 miles a day to his job as a barista and apprentice coffee roaster. Both credit their grandfather with sparking their interest in bicycling as boys and their great-grandmother with inspiring them to see the world. "She traveled on her own after raising four kids on her own," Andrew says. "She traveled the globe before it was a mainstream thing to do."

Randall has paired biking with fundraising before: He raised more than $4,000 for refugees in Darfur on a self-supported 16-day, 1,800-mile West Coast ride from Canada to Mexico. Randall has spent more than 10 months backpacking through Mexico and Central America, including 2 months of volunteer work at an organic cacao farm in rural Costa Rica.

Andrew has traveled extensively in Europe and Southeast Asia and recently completed an eight-day, 1,200-kilometer, self-supported bicycle tour from Bellingham to Jasper, Alberta.

Here's their proposed round-the-world route: travel down the West Coast, across the Southwest and South, then up the East Coast; fly or take a boat to Portugal; dip into Morocco; move east through Europe, stopping to see the Tour de France in July; zigzag through the British Isles, Eastern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia; head south to India, taking a break at the orphanage; travel northeast through Thailand, Laos and China; take a boat to Japan and, finally, fly home to Washington state.

The brothers have picked up several sponsors, including Curtlo Cycles in Winthrop, Wash., which is providing custom-made bicycle frames; A Touch of Dutch, a gift shop in Coupeville, Whidbey Island, has pledged $1000 for the cause; and Mt. Borah Custom Apparel in Coon Valley, Wis., maker and provider of custom cycling apparel; Useless Bay Coffee Company of Langley, Whidbey Island, WA, which has pledged $1000; Eddy's of Whidbey, Whidbey Island, WA, a unique t-shirt shop has pledged $1000 custom apparel.

To read more about or to donate to The Orphan Ride, see their Web site: The Orphan Ride Website

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