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It is two decades since the Official Charity of MotoGP, Riders for Health, began their life-saving work in impoverished regions of Africa.
In the 20 years since Riders for Health´s first project in Somalia, delivering vital medical supplies to isolated areas of the country, the charity has grown significantly and now operates over vast regions of Africa - reaching more than 11 million people in countries such as Lesotho, the Gambia, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Kenya and Tanzania.
In this in-depth interview with co-founders Andrea Coleman, Barry Coleman and Randy Mamola, along with Riders for Health´s events manager Jeanette Wragg, motogp.com gets the low down on how the organisation has expanded since its foundation and looks at the work the charity is doing in 2008.
How has everything gone for Riders for Health this year?
Jeanette Wragg – `I think 2008 in the MotoGP paddock, at the circuits, has been very successful for Riders for Health. We have raised an incredible £320,000 and we could not have done it without the support of everyone in the paddock.´
`This season we added Indianapolis to our traditional Day of Champions – now 15 years old. So we now have events at Indianapolis, Laguna Seca and at Donington Park in the UK.´
`We also put on fundraising events at Sachsenring, Assen, Catalunya, Jerez and at Brno. In Brno we are helped by Gordon Howell from Pole Position Travel who does an auction for us each year and this is going from strength to strength. In Sachsenring we do a pit-lane walk and we are seeing the numbers growing each year.´
`We finished the season in Valencia where we put on a Day of Champions with our Spanish branch, Motos Solidarias. It was very successful. Everyone enjoyed it. The teams and riders were fantastic and everyone put in an appearance so it really made the day for the fans, which was great. We have been helped by Sam Lyon and Gavin Emmett during the whole year, and we are very grateful to them.´
What are the most important new projects you are working on at present?
Andrea Coleman - `In operations terms we have two projects that I think are exciting. The first is the programme in Lesotho where we are working with the Elton John AIDS Foundation. They have given us the chance to set up in Lesotho, so we can train technicians and put in place a programme director enabling us to put 120 motorcycles into the health care system. These health workers now reach people in the most remote areas in Lesotho. That is very important because Lesotho has a terrible burden of disease, particularly HIV and tuberculosis, and to be able to use the motorcycles that the MotoGP community is built upon to assist people there is very exciting for us.´
`The second new field project is in Kenya where we are training women who are HIV positive to be able to help their own communities. That is very important, these women are often very neglected by ministries of health, so for MotoGP and motorcycling to be able to bring health care and help to those women is both vital and exciting for us.´
`From the point of view of fundraising, Day of Champions is always exciting but this season we have had a new alliance with both Laguna Seca and Indianapolis. The charge into the US is very important and very welcome for us. Everybody at these circuits has been incredibly welcoming and helpful, as have our long-term supporters at Valencia, Sachsenring, Assen, Jerez, Catalunya and Donington.´
What is the most important delivery you make in terms of saving lives?
Barry Coleman – `We don´t provide the drugs or medicines, but by maintaining the health workers´ vehicles correctly we are making sure they can deliver vital health care to even the most isolated villages.´
`In Lesotho this means delivering anti-retroviral drugs for the care of HIV positive patients, plus the drugs that combat tuberculosis. The fact that the health workers can go out to communities means that they can be delivered to people in their homes rather than have patients concentrate in hospitals where they can spread infection.´
`We are all waiting for the development of a truly effective malaria vaccine or cure. There has been a lot of investment from groups like the Gates Foundation to find a malaria cure, and if we find one that will perhaps be the most important drug that we will help to deliver. But the important thing is that we need to make sure we have the means to deliver that drug when it is developed.´
How does it feel to be celebrating your 20th anniversary?
Randy Mamola – `One of the first things I thought of when I was asked to comment on it being 20 years since we went to Somalia, was `wow, 20 years went by already?!´ Looking back to where we have come from, we have made some great strides and it would not have been possible without having Dorna, the FIM, the manufacturers, the teams and the riders all on our side.´
`Going to Somalia gave me a chance to see the impact of what we were raising money for at the time. Seeing these things first hand really does change your life, it definitely changed mine 20 years ago. And the thing is, the tool that we use to have fun, and that the riders make their living with and win their world championships with, is the same tool that is providing reliable transportation to reach more than 11 million people in Africa.´
Andrea Coleman – `When we started 20 years ago we knew what we were doing was important, but we were surprised at the time to find that nobody else in the entire universe had ever thought about how to manage vehicles in very harsh conditions, especially to deliver health care to people who so desperately need it. We were determined to bring the expertise and knowledge that we know exists in the motorcycle community to bear on this vital humanitarian situation.´
`To know that we have made such huge progress, and to know that we have made stronger and stronger relationships with MotoGP and have built partnerships with Ministries of Health, NGOs, celebrities and drugs companies is very exciting and I am very proud of everybody in our staff and everyone in MotoGP.´
Barry Coleman – `The theme that runs through everything that we have done over the past 20 years is the fact that we grew out of motorcycle racing and we have stayed in that environment. That is what makes the difference. It means we know where we come from, and we are never going to change. No one has helped us like our own community of motorcycle racing. That is where we belong.´
What would you like to see Riders develop into over the next 20 years?
Andrea Coleman - `I would like two things. I would like for Riders for Health to run and manage thousands more vehicles in order to reach millions more people, people who should not be dying of easily preventable and curable diseases. I would also like to see the motorcycle community and MotoGP really show the world how much they have achieved. Their sport is absolutely unique in having creating a humanitarian organisation that is saving so many peoples lives.´
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