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Adventurer cycles 1,000 kilometers through Himalayas for charity

By Julie Clothier for CNN
  • Reza Pakravan decided to take a short-term volunteer experience in south-east Madagascar
  • Now Pakravan is trying to raise £28,000 ($42,000) to build two schools Madagascar
  • To raise funds he has cycled 620 miles across the Himalayas, Nepal
  • Pakravan's volunteer trip has made charity "a part of my life"

(CNN) -- When Reza Pakravan embarked on a three-week trip to Madagascar a little over a year ago, he had no idea the African island would continue to play a role in his life long after he left.

"Those three weeks changed my life," the 35-year-old credit risk analyst said. "I can never look at my living room and shower in the same way as I used to."

Pakravan is now $10,500 (£7,000) short of raising the $42,000 (£28,000) he needs to build two new schools in south-east Madagascar.

Pakravan, originally from Iran, has lived in London for the past 10 years. He said he wanted to give something back, and so decided on a short-term volunteer program with UK-based charity Azafady.

"I constantly crave adventure and had been thinking about doing voluntary work in Africa for a long time. However, it is quite difficult when you are working full time to leave everything and go for few months," he said.

For Malagasy people it's all about survival, how to get through their day, what to eat for their next meal.
--Reza Pakravan, credit risk analyst and volunteer.
  • Madagascar
  • Nepal
  • Himalayas
  • Charitable Giving

Living in a tent, eating rice and beans for every meal, using a bucket shower and working a demanding construction job with primitive tools would have been enough to put most people off from repeating the experience.

But while in Madagascar, Pakravan decided he would build a new school for the island.

"Living like Malagasy people made me realize how difficult -- and at the same time how simple -- people's lives can be. For Malagasy people it's all about survival, how to get through their day, what to eat for their next meal."

But Pakravan's fundraising efforts had not quite produced enough money for the school and so earlier this year he teamed up with friend Marco Gustapane to take part in a 10-day, self-funded expedition, cycling 1,000 kilometers across the Himalayas in Nepal.

"We called it the 'Jellybabies on a bike campaign.'

"When I was in southern Madagascar I offered some village children a pack of Jellybabies [sweets], then the next thing I know, the entire village started calling me 'Jellybabies.'"

But two days before Pakravan was due to leave for Nepal in April this year, the duo's plans stalled because volcanic ash from Iceland grounded thousands of flights across Europe.

"Marco was waiting for me in Kathmandu while I was checking the news and spending hours on the phone trying to speak to travel agents and airlines. Because the ash kept delaying things, we decided that Marco should start the trip and I would join him when I could."

A week into Gustapane's trip, Pakravan joined him. They cycled together for a week and then Pakravan carried on alone for a week.

But during the solo portion of Pakravan's trip, a Maoist protest brought Nepal to a standstill for seven consecutive days.

"All roads were blocked. Nothing was moving, not a single car, truck or motorbike. Shops were all closed. Even elephants were grounded," he said.

"Nepalese roads which are normally really busy, were absolutely empty. Only ambulances were on the road," he said, adding that it seemed to be perfect conditions for cycling.

But after four days of cycling on empty roads with climbing 2,000 meters over 57 kilometers of road, his food and water supplies had dwindled to a dangerously low level.

"My ration packs were all finished. Soon after, I ran out of water. The place was so remote. I was thirsty and hungry. I was pale," he said.

"Eventually, I passed a few peasants sitting in the middle of the road having their food. As soon as they saw my state they invited me to eat with them and offered me water. No knife and fork, I tucked in with my hands and ate like them. I was saved by such lovely people. They shared whatever they had with me."

The humbling moment was enough to motivate him to continue and thoughts of quitting diminished.

During the trip, Gustapane and Pakravan raised enough money to finish the first school as well as enough to start a second in Madagascar.

"Little things we take for granted in the developed world cannot be found on Madagascar. Life is quite primitive and most things are done manually. It's like going back 100 years," he said, adding that the countryside was "amazing, like heaven on Earth."

It is also in need of clean water, health care, modern agriculture, transport and roads, he added.

"Slashing and burning trees seems to be the way in Madagascar as charcoal is widely used for cooking. It needs alternative sources of fuel. The country's environment is extremely under pressure," he said.

Now, he no longer has to "find the time" for charity. "It has become a part of my life," he said.

When asked whether he'll raise more money once he hits his £28,000 goal, Pakravan's reply is simple: "Well, currently I am planning a mega-expedition with aiming of raising $450,000."

And with his track record, he will probably achieve it.

Donate money to Pakravan's schools fundraising here