Meet the Swiss IRONMAN getting South Africa’s kids to class

Meet the Swiss IRONMAN getting South Africa’s kids to class
Swiss 11-time IRONMAN champion Ronnie Schildknecht

Swiss 11-time IRONMAN champion Ronnie Schildknecht’s cycling prowess has won him a cabinet full of trophies, including the 2013 IRONMAN South Africa gold medal. But now he’s back in the saddle with his eyes on a different prize – education for some of South Africa’s most impoverished children – and harnessing the power of online fundraising on GivenGain to get over the line.

On August 14, a peloton of fundraisers led by Ronnie, sporting real or fake moustaches, will ride more than 50km around Zurich in his annual Les Moustaches bike ride. All money raised will go to Qhubeka, a charity that gifts bicycles to poor communities in South Africa to help their children get to school.

For the event’s third edition this year, Ronnie is aiming to raise €20,000 (R343,500) – enough for 100 bikes. But while Les Moustaches is now a carefully planned event complete with uniforms and corporate sponsorship, it didn’t start out that way.

“Starting Les Moustaches was really spontaneous. We were in the training camp, and we thought ‘let’s just shave’,” recalls Ronnie. “So, we looked a little funny riding around with just a moustache. And then I thought, why don’t we do this for a good cause? So that’s how it came about. It’s all about having fun, but still remembering that there are other people who don’t have what we have.”

Pedal power

In rural areas in South Africa, where the nearest school can be several hours away on foot, a Qhubeka bicycle can mean the difference between a child attending class and missing out on an education.

“I first linked up with Qhubeka after doing a double century ride in South Africa,” says Ronnie. “The money from the event went to them, so the day after the race we went to see what they were doing with it, and that’s how I got involved. I met these young kids there and I gave one kid a bike and he was so happy. Being a cyclist myself, I’ve seen where a bike can take you.”

To date, Qhubeka has supplied more than 100,000 bikes to communities across South Africa, helping not only schoolchildren but also healthcare workers and disaster relief first responders. The charity also trains local mechanics to assemble and repair the bicycles and builds supply chains for spare parts.

Racing ahead

With days to go, Les Moustaches 2021 has more than achieved its fundraising goal. Participants have now contributed over €22,000 (R377,000) through the event’s GivenGain page. However, Ronnie is already looking ahead to next year – and hoping to make an even bigger difference for the communities Qhubeka serves.

“The first ride in 2019, we had about 40 people take part,” he says. “This year we’ll have 80. But I think it’s just the beginning. It could be something which you can do globally – maybe a ride in Australia or the US. We’ve also thought about doing a virtual event online.”

Armed with the power of online fundraising and his platform as an IRONMAN champion, Ronnie is well placed to reach out to fundraisers and donors around the world and make an even bigger impact. Turning Les Moustaches into a fundraising force has also taught him a lot about how best to run a fundraising campaign.

“My advice is to do something close to your heart, because then you’ve got motivation,” says Ronnie. “After that, fundraising needs patience and persistence. I contact people again and again – not in a pushy way, but you have to make sure because they have their lives going on and sometimes, they forget. If I don’t do anything, or if I just put my fundraising page up, nothing happens.”

“Then on top of that, you have to make it easy. That’s why GivenGain is so good – everybody can donate, they can pay by credit card or app, Qhubeka can give everybody a tax certificate. It’s very simple.”

To find out more about event fundraising on GivenGain, contact [email protected].