ONE TRENTHAM couple has completed the trip of a lifetime while raising awareness and funds for underprivileged Cambodian children and their families.
Rose Wilson and Steve Peirce completed the 650-kilometre Feeding Dreams Cambodia bike ride from Sianoukville to Siem Reap in January after being inspired by their friends the Williamsons.
The pair did not even own bikes when they decided to participate in the ride.
"We hadn't ridden a bike since our teenage years so we bought a couple in July last year and hit the roads to get a few kms in our legs. The most we ever did in one hit here was 47kms and we were knackered at the end of the day," Mr Peirce said.
So when they hit the humid, dry and dusty route in Cambodia, where they travelled an average of 85km each day, the ride was challenging.
Mr Peirce said the hardest part of the ride was the mental challenge but the camaraderie between the 23 riders, most of whom were just like them and doing it for the experience, was vital.
The group rode through many of the small villages that tourists do not often see, and as such, saw the extent of the poverty which exists in the country.
At the end of their journey, the riders stopped at a slum on the outskirts of the Feeding Dreams Centre and gave rice to the families who greeted them. Some of the families invited the riders into their homes to show them how they lived.
"They were tiny little places, like shacks, piled on top of each other. There was one woman with her hands up in the air thanking us. It was very heart wrenching and very humbling going through the slums," Ms Wilson said.
To end their arduous journey, the participants rode into a nearby school where they were greeted with children and families who cheered as they made their way across the finish line.
"At the end of the ride it was nice to be able to spend time at the centre. They had this big celebration and the kids cheered, danced, sang and presented us with gifts," Ms Wilson said.
Afterwards, the riders were invited in to the school's classrooms for lessons, after which a soccer match was played.
Ms Wilson was particularly stricken by one child, a star soccer player, whose growth was so stunted due to malnutrition that the school was trying to locate a high protein food to feed him to give him a chance at obtaining a scholarship to achieve his dream.
"You would go into slums and see kids who could not be helped. It brings tears to my eyes just thinking about it. There was one little girl, about four, who was walking around but you could just see in her eyes that she wasn't there - she was so malnourished," Mr Peirce said.
The majority of the Cambodian population lives in extreme poverty but Feeding Dreams, which assists up to 800 children by providing a free education and daily meals, aims to break the cycle by forging pathways into industries such as education, hospitality and sports programs while simultaneously keeping families together.
The group of 23 riders raised $183,000 for the charity while Ms Wilson and Mr Peirce raised the most as a pair with $19,600. They held many fundraisers, including a raffle for one of Ms Wilson's artworks, to raise the money.
"All of that money will go a long way. We raised the most purely because of our community. Being in a small community, people are more willing to support you because they know you - trying to raise that sort of money in a larger town or city would be more difficult," she said.
On top of their fantastic fundraising efforts, the pair, along with another couple, decided to fund one man's dream of going to university after hearing his story.
Thai, who heads the education program at Feeding Dreams, told the group his story and aspirations to become a professor on a bus trip back to their accommodation following a visit to the Killing Fields.
The group understood he did not have the money to fulfil his dream and decided they wanted to help.
"He came from a really troubled and impoverished upbringing,: Ms Wilson said. "Sad beginnings but he found his way to Feeding Dreams."
You can't help everyone because they're so impoverished but you can help a few.Rose Wilson
Thai continues to work at Feeding Dreams from Monday through Friday and attends university at weekends.
Would they do it again?
They would not rule it out, but said it was an incredibly challenging but rewarding experience.
"It was the most challenging thing that we've both ever done and probably will ever do.," Mr Peirce said.
They continue to ride for leisure through the bush.