Workers building the well for the new Unicorn Project School in Shivrajpur, India. The previous building that housed school was no longer available due to COVID-19. (Submitted)

Penticton retiree to cycle 13,000 km to raise funds for school in India

Mike Barrett hopes to raise at least $5,000 for the school

Most people, once they retire tend to take things a bit easier, but not Mike Barrett.

On his 70th birthday March 10, Barrett, a retired Penticton coroner, plans to cycle 13,000 kilometres, to raise funds for the school he helped start in Bodhgaya, India.

Barrett and the Unicorn Project opened the Unicorn School in the village of Shivrajpur, just south of Bodhgaya in 2019. With donations, the project was able to build desks, paint the walls, and provide the papers, chalkboards and chalk tablets for the students, and hire two local teachers and a cleaner for the school.

Due to COVID-19, the owner of the property that the school had been using took it back in order to house their family, leaving the Unicorn School without a home.

“This happened right around Christmas time, leaving us about eight weeks to figure things out,” said Barrett.

Taking what money the project had to spare, construction was started on a new school building out of the traditional bamboo, straw and mud. A water pump to the supply the building was just finished on Feb. 24.

The plan is to raise the remaining funds to complete the new school, which has so far cost about $5,000 to get halfway finished, with any more going towards other projects to help the village.

READ MORE: Retired Okanagan coroner working to make lives better in India

The village is located in India’s Bihar province, and is made up of members of India’s untouchable caste, who are considered outcasts by the larger society, and thus find themselves without much support.

“Most of the kids don’t have clothes, they’re running around barefoot in long t-shirts,” said Barrett. “They’re kids playing in the dirt playing cricket.”

In addition to the education for the children, the school also provides a meal for them, which for many is the only food they’ll get in a day.

“If we can save two or three and make a good life for them, it will be really worthwhile.”

Two students of the Unicorn Project School in Shivrajpur, India, that Mike Barrett helped establish. (Submitted)

The school provides education in math, language, and other subjects that the children would otherwise have no access to.

“This is the biggest thing that’s happened in many of their lives. Last year when I was there, we took 30 of them for a 10 kilometre ride to a different community, and took them out to a restaurant,” he said.

“There had only been two or three kids who’d been outside their own village.

“It was just amazing, these kids of five or six years old, their eyes wide as saucers, they’d never been to a restaurant.”

In addition to the paid teachers at the school, the support from the village has been instrumental in the work that the Unicorn Project is doing, such as having doctor visits and dental checkups and lessons on dental hygiene.

Barrett discovered the community during a trip to India several years ago, and has continued to make multiple trips out a year, although he has been unable to travel since COVID-19 broke out.

“Biking the 13,000 kilometres will be the least of my worries,” he said.

Barrett plans to cycle 10,000 of the kilometres around B.C. and into Alberta, with the last 1,500 km hopefully taking place once travel is reopened. The final leg would start in Dehli and end in Bodhgaya.

Sponsors and people willing to support the project can donate a penny a kilometre for the ride, or any other amount they want.

“I’m hoping people will sponsor me for the whole ride…13,000 kilometres works out to about $130 at the end of the day. So it’s a pretty inexpensive way,” Barrett said.

More information about Barrett’s Biking to Bodhgaya fundraiser can be found on the Unicorn Project website at unicornproject.ca/biking-to-bodhgaya.

Donations can also be made through Barrett’s Paypal and Square accounts.

To report a typo, email: editor@pentictonwesternnews.com.


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