Furman and the surrounding County of Greenville have built a reputation as a bike-loving community, but when it comes to cycling, Jeff Hennessy ’10 takes it to extremes. Hennessy recently returned from a cross-country cycling trip raising funds for Burundi, a lesser-known African country that is one of the five poorest in the world.
So how did a political science and earth and environmental sciences double major from Annapolis go from teaching in the Barrier Islands to an adventure such as this? He puts it simply, “I had a friend who rode across the country to propose to his girlfriend and I thought the concept was a cool idea.”
This “cool idea” took Hennessy by storm and the young man who struggled with ten miles at the start graduated to 100 miles per day on his goodwill expedition. He says he first became interested in international relations to this level when he studied abroad in Belgium through Furman, interning in the European Union’s Parliament. “Being a poli sci major and studying abroad shows you what’s messed up in the world, and I wanted to do something about it.”
“Do something” he did – and as he was pondering a cross-country trip, he met a missionary from Burundi developing a similar kind of fundraising mission, Simon Guillebaud. The two clicked and the work began to raise funds for a local orphanage and school that supports the Pygmy population, social pariahs of the region. Hennessy described Burundi as “the Rwanda that no one really knows much about – with the same issues with Tutsis and Hutus.”
While Guillebaud and Hennessy gathered funding for the venture and a team of riders and supporters, Hennessy embarked on a rigorous training regimen to prepare for the trip. But a serious fall on the Swamp Rabbit Trail led to a severed Achilles tendon (an injury that missed a major artery by a millimeter), and an assumed end to the dream. However, Hennessy was determined and after four months he was back on the saddle, the bike saddle, to start the trip from Los Angeles to Charleston.
Hennessy and Guillebaud joined two cyclists for the officially named “Bike for Burundi” mission that crossed 3050 miles in 30 days, raising a total of $303,551 to date. The journey was rigorous, and the team relied on the benevolence of others for donations, beds, and meals along the way. The team blogged throughout the ride, and a volunteer videographer captured the journey in what he hopes to turn into a documentary. (You can view a video from the trip here.)
After returning home, Hennessy set a plan in motion to return to the working world, but after a couple of weeks he felt an urge to see the fruits of his labors and to give more to the people he had come to know through stories from Guillebaud.
Hennessy is going to Burundi, to a land with no electricity, extreme poverty, high danger, and where the life expectancy is 27 years.
He’ll stay for ten months, teaching at the Future Hope School and working to further develop the secondary school, Gitega International Academy.
Hennessy is raising funds for his trip and living expenses, but with determination like his, he will surely get there, putting one pedal in front of the other.
If you are a Furman alum with an interesting story, please contact Kate Hofler ’09.