THE roads to Cambodia begin all over the world. Armin Kluge’s began in the Canadian Arctic on a sea kayaking expedition in 1997, and he ended up sharing his tandem kayak with a 74-year-old thrill-seeker named Bert Knapper. The senior citizen’s cold-weather sojourn was impressive to Kluge, but it wasn’t the physical feat that most resonated with him.
“We got chatting and[Knapper] said ‘When I was 70 I rode my bicycle from Vancouver to Halifax.’ And I said ‘Hey that’s a great idea.’ So this year I’m going to be 70 and that’s the magic number,” said Kluge. “I think I have to do this bike trip.”
His trip, like Knapper’s, will go from British Columbia, on Canada’s Pacific coast, to Nova Scotia, an eastern province on the Atlantic Ocean, a grand total of about 7000 kilometres. But Kluge isn’t simply hitting Canadian highways to test his physical endurance and mettle. He’s using the opportunity to raise money for Angkor Peak Sneng Junior High School, just north of Siem Reap.
“My goal is to raise a dollar per kilometre,” said Kluge, adding that he’s already been guaranteed one-quarter of his $7000 goal from donors, less than two weeks before he starts the first leg of his tour, an 1800-kilometre journey across Ontario, Canada’s biggest province. And Kluge wouldn’t be surprised if he exceeded his monetary goal, which means more and more rural children will have access to education.
One of the key problems which students at Angkor Peak Sneng Junior High School face, says Kluge, is that once they have finished middle school, many of the students live too far away from a high school to continue their education.
“We have no legal responsibility whatsoever to help these people, but I just think it makes good sense that if we’ve given them an opportunity to attend the middle school from grades seven to nine, then we shouldn’t drop them back off at the village to do nothing [after],” he said.
Since the middle school is located about halfway between the students’ village and the closest high school, Kluge says the money he raises will go towards building a boarding house on the junior high grounds. That way, graduates aren’t too isolated from a high school to keep studying.
Kluge’s decision to help this middle school might seem like a random choice, but the school was started by his childhood friend from Germany, Sigfried Zinkeisen, known as Siggi. Zinkeisen decided to start the school in late 2006, says his wife Gerlinde, at the “deepest point of his life because of cancer”.
He thought back to a trip to Kathmandu, Nepal, some 30 years earlier, when he and his wife visited a leprosy centre that was run by three women. Inspired by their charity, Zinkeisen wanted to give back to Cambodia. He’d visited before, and was touched by the kindness and resilience of its people.
In February 2008, Zinkeisen’s middle school opened. Kluge made the cross-Pacific trip to be there.
Kluge’s tour will consist of legs, because there are only a few months of reliable weather per year, and also because he wants to take his time.