Hard economic times, a global pandemic, and an overwhelming fear of the future results in the ongoing rise of child abuse. It’s a very sombre thought. When these factors are taken out of the equation, child abuse and mental health amongst the South African youth remains ubiquitous. Our nation’s historical socio-economic factors have had a long-lasting effect on mental and emotional health for the most vulnerable group of our population: our children.
Pedal Project was founded off the back of the realisation that sport is a catalyst for the transformation of young minds. It provides children from under-resourced communities battling with trauma and discrimination with support. The organisation follows the Laureus Sport for Good methodology, founded by Nelson Mandela, and now a global Sport for Development charity movement, with 200 programmes in 40 countries.
Jaco van der Linde, Founder of Pedal Project, has an innate love for mountain biking, which started at a young age, after putting foot to pedal in the early 90’s. The wheels were set in motion.
“Cycling represents everything. It improves physical health, builds friendships, fosters a spirit of adventure, freedom, builds technical skills, provides jobs and more. Mountain biking gave me a sense of community, access to nature and the ability to explore new territories and landscapes. I wanted to share this incredible gift with those who need it most” says Jaco.
Sport is a combination of intellectually and creatively challenging activities. Set this against the backdrop of nature, with experienced and caring mentors, and the unnavigated emotional mountains young children are faced with daily become easier to climb.
On bikes is how they do it.
Open to all children aged 10 – 13, Pedal Project is all about creating connections within the brain that help deal with the inevitable changes of adolescence. Their programme does this in a holistic and sustainable way. The initiative allows children to become more resilient, helps build agency that leads to an increased level of engagement, both at school and home.
According to a study published by Frontiers in Psychiatry, mental health disorders are the number one leading burden of disease in children and adolescents. 50–80% of all adult mental health disorders emerge before the age of 18. Children with mental health disorders often experience challenges in education and learning, in their transition to adult life, and in their potential to live fulfilling and productive lives.
Professional mountain biker and Pedal Project Ambassador Andrew ‘Needles’ Neethling adds “I firmly believe that the bicycle has the power to teach many lessons along the way, which will, in turn, help in life as well. It has been invigorating to see an organisation such as Pedal Project use this sport to grow and develop kids who may never have had this opportunity without Pedal Project. The combination of learning a technical sport, enjoying new experiences and being outdoors with the guidance of mentors provides a solid foundation for psycho-social support to the kids who need it the most”.
Pedal Project’s ethos, like its Programme Partners, Waves for Change, is to help children deal with the onset of toxic stress, caused by ACEs. ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences) include physical and emotional abuse, racism, and community violence. The excessive and prolonged activation of the stress-response system leads to long-term effects on both body and brain.
It also has a lot to do with climate and environmental education.
Jaco van der Linde says “To use the opportunity out in green spaces to educate and inform the
participants about biodiversity, the importance of cleaning and greening, as well as making them aware of our vast fynbos biosphere, is shown to have an extremely positive impact on mental health”.
The programme aligns this environmental education with the school’s natural sciences curriculum. This strengthens the connection the participants have between their positive experiences on their bikes with their time in the classroom.
Do you recall the first time you rode a bike? The excitement of doing something for the first time?
Independently. Look Mom, no hands! Applied research tells us that riding a bike has an unequivocally positive impact on cognitive, emotional, and of course, physical wellbeing. On the trails, children can be in the present moment. They’re able to forget about their hardships. Every time they do this, something slowly mends and re-forms. They can experience carefree joy, with the wind on their faces and hope that `anything is possible.
Pedal Project is open to creating new partnerships to continue to use the power of mountain bikes to create more resilient children for the future.
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