“I wish that when I was your age I had done the things I really wanted to do rather than the things people expected me to do. I wish I’d been braver.”
The words of Claire Elsdon’s elderly grandmother as she lay in her hospital bed were to change the former City of London stockbroker’s life – and those of countless others – forever.
Within months, the Triumph fanatic had embarked on a 40,000km ride to Cape Town to, as she puts it, “escape the fear and greed, make myself vulnerable and narrowly avoid being trampled by elephants”.
Don’t let life pass you by
“My gran taught me not to let my life slip by. I knew I didn’t want to sit at a desk in the City for the rest of my life and knew I had a purpose to fulfil. There had to be more meaning to life than spending 12 hours a day anxious and full of stress,” she says.
During her African adventure, including lengthy stints off-road, she visited Malawi where she helped launch a motorcycle scheme for a charity to teach its officers how to look after their ailing fleet of 80 bikes and keep them road safe. The Love Your Motorcycle, Love Your Life project was born.
Word of the scheme spread and Claire was invited to Songea in Southern Tanzania where she taught midwives how to keep their motorcycles roadworthy as part of a project called Motorcycle Outreach.
“Around 24 women die every day in childbirth here, sometimes because medical assistance struggles to reach them in remote rural areas,” says Claire, who was horrified at the lack of road safety awareness and maintenance education and immediately decided to do something about it.
“Riders in these places don’t worry about tyres or loose chains and even ride three-up on the most treacherous roads, but by raising awareness among the riders and empowering their passengers, we’re hearing anecdotal evidence that the number of fatal crashes has fallen dramatically.
“We’ve trained 1,500 people across the continent over the last nine months. If their new-found knowledge stops one tragedy that could affect countless people in their families, then it will have been worthwhile.”
What price to save a life?
Funding initially promised to the midwife ambulance scheme by the Tanzanian government has been cut due to budget cuts, leaving Claire looking for alternative fundraising methods to plug the gap: “We’ve had some motorcycle groups pledging support, so we’re confident we will be able to pay for the salaries of our five motorcycle ambulance drivers – all local women – as well as petrol costs for the year we plan to run the service.”
“It only costs £2,000 to pay for one of the five trained apprentice midwives for a year and £18 per ride-out, so when you consider that they could save a mother and baby each time, it’s all about how much value we put on a life.
“Whatever happens we will keep delivering the awareness. If it reaches one person, then the words of my gran won’t have been in vain for many communities.”