Rwanda New Times Article

Americans raise Rwf21 million in Genocide awareness bike ride

Three Americans on Thursday started riding more than 200 miles across Rwanda to raise awareness of the 20th anniversary of the Genocide.

David Chaney, Ron Kerr and Fred Zapalac have raised $31,000 (about Rwf21 million) so far for Survivors Fund, a British non-profit that assists Genocide survivors.

They will also be donating three bikes worth $1,000 (Rwf0.68m) to the top three students in the Foundation Rwanda educational programme.

The group left from Gisenyi on Thursday morning and they rode about 35 miles on the first day to Musanze. They will ride about 60 miles each day, passing through Kigali on Friday and ending their trip at Rusumo Falls near the Tanzania border on Sunday.

Their four-day bicycle trip is being led by Rwandan Adventures, a local company that will provide a guide and support on the road.

Chaney first developed the idea of riding a bike across Rwanda shortly after his 39th birthday and his motive was to combine social justice with weight loss.

The Houston-based accountant first came to Rwanda in 2010, after experiences in Uganda and Kenya, to volunteer with the Survivors Fund. The organisation needed someone to help in its accounting department and teach the staff QuickBooks, a bookkeeping software.

Chaney is now a trustee of the non-profit and returns to Rwanda every nine months to check on the Survivors Fund books and teach Genocide orphans accounting.

“I’ve made real friends here, and that’s why I keep coming back,” Chaney said.

At the time of his first trip to Rwanda, Chaney was on a weight loss journey aimed at shedding some of the 320 pounds (about 144kg) he weighed. He took up road cycling to lose 120 pounds.

About two years ago, he weighed 260 pounds. Despite joining Weight Watchers, a weight loss support programme and diligently riding his bike, he was yet to reach his goal weight of 200 pounds (about 90kg).

Chaney knew the 20th anniversary of the Genocide was coming up and he decided to combine his weight loss goals with commemorating the Genocide.

“I was able to combine my passion for working with Genocide survivors with the cycling passion,” he said.

Chaney reached his weight-loss goal in time for his 40th birthday in January and well ahead of his bike ride.

“I’ve been to every country in East Africa except Burundi but Rwanda just stands out,” Chaney said.

“It’s clean and organised with polite and friendly citizens,” he added.

Petition to the United Nations to establish a trust fund for Rwandan Genocide Survivors

We, the undersigned, call on our Government as a member state of the United Nations General Assembly to meaningfully honour Resolution 68/129 (Assistance to Survivors of the 1994 Genocide in Rwanda) which calls for “assistance in the areas of education for orphans, medical care and treatment for victims of sexual violence, including HIV-positive victims, trauma and psychological counselling, and skills training and microcredit programmes aimed at promoting self-sufficiency and alleviating poverty.”

2014 marks the 20th Anniversary of the Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda.

We believe there is a unique opportunity to provide the critical assistance still required by vulnerable survivors through funding from agencies, funds and programmes of the United Nations, or through voluntary contributions from Governments and the international community. Amongst the vehicles to deliver such support can be a dedicated International Trust Fund for Survivors of the 1994 Genocide in Rwanda, or a National Genocide Survivor’s Fund.

This is a once-in-a-generation moment. The international community largely ignored the plight of survivors of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda twenty years ago. This is a unique opportunity to address the ongoing needs of survivors today, before it is too late again. Your signature in support of this call will be a vital contribution.

The Leader Article June 12, 2014

Art a la Carte: Ride for the Survivors
June 12, 2014 | Filed under: Art a la Carte,Hipstrict,Top Stories | Posted by: admin

I’m taking a slight diversion from art this week to tell you about what three men are doing that I find absolutely amazing, inspiring and courageous. They were brought to my attention by Kevin Chenevert and Amy Taylor last week at their art opening as the charity which received 10% of their sales.

Next week three Texans, will ride their bicycles 200 miles across the Rwandan mountains. (Yes, Rwanda is in Africa.)

Totally self-funded, they are riding to raise awareness for the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan Genocide and raise money for the Survivors Fund. The Ride for the Survivors is what they’re calling their fundraising campaign.

In 1994, approximately 1,000,000 Rwandans, primarily Tutsis, were murdered in a genocide perpetrated by the Hutu death squads. The goal of the Survivors Fund is to help as many of the 400,000 survivors as possible. The majority of whom are widows and orphans; the Survivors Fund has been one of the most effective non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in securing grants for programs to aid these widows and orphans.

David Chaney has been volunteering with the Survivors Fund and teaching his accounting skills. He has made five trips to Rwanda and is a trustee of the Survivors Fund. Chaney came up with the idea for The Ride for the Survivors while trying to figure out a way past a personal hurtle of losing the last 65 pounds of 175 to meet his goal weight of 200 pounds by his 40th birthday.

“That’s when I thought of riding a bicycle across Rwanda to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the genocide. I wanted to do something substantial on a personal level for it,” Chaney said of his idea. “The 20th anniversary also happens to be a few months after my 40th birthday. If I planned and promoted a bicycle ride across mountainous, high altitude Rwanda, I would have to lose that final 65 pounds. For the past year, my mantra has been ‘failure is not an option.’”

Not only did Chaney reach his goal weight, Weight Watchers featured him in their magazine.

This is where the other two riders come in the picture. To lose weight Chaney watched his diet and rode his bike daily. Being as heavy as he was, his cheap bike needed repairs often. Eventually, Blue Line Bike Lab co-owner Fred Zapalac encouraged David to get a better bike, and join him on their group rides, where he met Ron Kerr of the Heights and the third of the trio.

More than 28,000 biking miles later, Fred Zapalac and Ron Kerr will join David Chaney and depart on June 14 for The Ride for the Survivors. It may only be 200 miles, but they don’t call Rwanda the land of a thousand hills because it’s flat. The trio will start at an altitude of 5,000 feet and travel about 50 miles up to 8,000 feet. Then it’s a hilly ride back down to about 3,000 feet on a two lane black top highway.

Donations go through Charities Aid Foundation of America which allow your donation to be tax deductible. All of the money donated goes directly to the Survivors Fund.

You can follow along on their incredible journey with daily updates on their Facebook page – search for Ride for Survivors. Their website is

At 6 p.m. on Tuesday, July 29 Chaney will talk about how cycling has changed his life as well as his trip to Rwanda at the BikeHouston Monthly Social at Cuchara Restaurant, 214 Fairview Street.

Houston Chronicle Article June 10, 2014

1 million reasons for trio’s Rwandan bike trek

Three friends to cross African country to mark genocide’s anniversary

By Ana Goni-Lessan  |                                   June 10, 2014                  |  Updated: June 11, 2014 11:16am

Ron Kerr, left, Fred Kapalac and David Chaney will ride across Rwanda June 18-22 to increase awareness of the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide. Photo: Ana Goni-Lessan

  • Photo By Ana Goni-Lessan
                                                                                                                                                                                                            Ron Kerr, left, Fred Zapalac and David Chaney will ride across Rwanda June 18-22 to increase awareness of the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide.

Heights resident David Chaney, along with two of his friends, fellow Heights resident Ron Kerr and Fred Zapalac of Oak Forest, will cycle across Rwanda to bring awareness to the 20th anniversary of the genocide that killed approximately 1 million people in 1994.

The 200-mile Ride for the Survivors began as an idea when Chaney, an accountant, turned 39. He had begun his weight loss journey years before but was still 65 pounds shy of his goal.

Chaney said he thought that planning this trip would be good motivation for him to lose the weight and to spread awareness about the genocide’s anniversary.

“I figured if I started telling everyone that I was going to ride a bicycle across Rwanda then I would have to actually do it,” he said.

Chaney has been involved with nonprofits in Africa since 2008, having volunteered with groups in Uganda and Kenya. Rwanda, however, is where he said he was able to help the most.

The 1994 genocide resulted after some Hutu political leaders agitated for violence against the Tutsi ethnic group and moderate Hutus, resulting in massacres throughout the country.

Chaney volunteered with a non-governmental organization called the Survivors Fund, which helps support the survivors of the genocide, and helped the organization with its accounting needs.

“It ended up being a really good fit,” he said. “It was rewarding to be able to use my skill set.”

Now Chaney is a trustee.

The ride will be from June 18-22 and will start at Rwanda’s border with Congo and end at the border with Tanzania.

“I just wanted to be able to do it during the period of mourning (to commemorate the time of year when the deaths occurred), which is between April 7 and July 15,” Chaney said.

This year for the anniversary, the country held a commemoration ceremony, and Rwandan President Paul Kagame lit a flame to burn for as long as the genocide lasted.

The three riders will travel through rugged terrain. Mountains rising up to 8,000 feet will be in the way of the finish line.

They will also be accompanied by a guide, a porter and a support vehicle with a trailer.

Chaney and Zapalac, 38, have ridden together for a few years and are close friends.

Zapalac, co-owner of Blue Line Bike Lab in The Heights, is who Chaney calls his “cycling mentor.”

Zapalac was a freshman in college when the genocide occurred in 1994, but it wasn’t until he was asked to join the cause that he began to research and learn about it.

“I like to travel and I like to ride bikes, but after I decided I was going to do it I began to read up and on it and it’s become a personal journey for me,” Zapalac said.

“The more you read about the events over those 100 days, I just can’t describe how much the atrocity pulls you in and makes you want to help. To now have an opportunity to go in and make a difference in our own way is a huge thing.”

The third member of the team, 53-year-old geophysicist Ron Kerr, has only been riding for 12 years but has been involved with nonprofits for longer, as he used to work with the Houston chapter with Amnesty International. When he heard about Chaney’s plans, he wanted to join in.

“Human rights causes have always been a big deal to me,” he said

The four-day ride also marks another milestone for Chaney, who will celebrate 11 years of sobriety.

“This trip across Rwanda is what got me to the finish line,” he said. “Not only is it going there and doing this ride for the survivors, but it’s also for me for finally getting back to go.”

So far about $30,000 has been raised for The Survivors Fund, Zapalac said.

To donate or for more information, visit

The Rwandan Genocide – The World Watched and Did Nothing

I have visited Rwanda five times. I have been to the Genocide Memorial in Kigali five times. I have exited the last section of the memorial dedicated to the child victims with tears streaming down my cheeks five times. I could visit it a hundred times and not have a different result. More than the crushing sadness of seeing a detailed description of children, their personalities, their likes and the manner in which their young lives were ended, is the knowledge that the genocide didn’t have to happen. Tolstoy wrote in “War and Peace” that “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing”. The Rwandan Genocide may have been the worst realization of that notion.

It is impossible to fully describe the Rwandan Genocide in a few paragraphs but for most people, the event is not fresh in their memory and the causes probably were never known to them. The root cause stems primarily from resentments of Hutus against Tutsis who were favored by the Belgians during their colonial rule and put into positions of power despite being a minority of the population. These resentments reached a boiling point in 1959 in the first large scale Hutu on Tutsi violence. 100,000 Tutsis were forced to flee to neighboring countries. Rwanda gained independence from Belgium in 1962 and the Hutus took controlof Rwanda. Sporadic violence against Tutsis continued over the next 25 years which led to more and more Tutsis fleeing to neighboring countries. In October 1990, these displaced Tutsis, who had formed a well organized Army and political party, invaded Rwanda and the Rwandan Civil War began. The war went on for over three years before the Rwandan President, Juvenal Habyarimana, agreed to a peace settlement with the Tutsi rebel army. On April 6, 1994, Juvenal Habyarimana and the President of neighboring Burundi, Cyprien Ntaryamira, were returning from a regional summit in Tanzania when their plane was shot down while attempting to land in Kigali. Who fired the missile that shot down their plane, killing everyone on board, has never been fully answered. One thing that is not in dispute, is that the shooting down of their plane was the beginning of the genocide.

Within minutes of the downing of the presidential jet, road blocks went up all around the country. Hutu death squads, called the Interahawme, went from house to house with lists of Tutsis to round up and kill. The killing was indiscriminate and savage. Machetes and sticks were the most common instrument of death. Parents were forced to watch their children be killed before they themselves were killed. Wives and daughters who were spared would be raped by men known to be HIV infected. People tried to take shelter in churches but this only aided the Interahamwe in their task of rounding up victims. In more than one case, priests would turn over their churches filled with cowering people to the death squads. Some of the worst incidents of the entire genocide occurred in churches. Between 5,000 and 10,000 people died EVERY SINGLE DAY of the genocide. For 100 days the killing raged on and not one country lifted a finger to stop it.

When the first peace talks between the Tutsi Army and government of Rwanda began in the fall of 1993, the United Nations deployed a force of peace keepers to Rwanda. The force numbered 2,500 poorly equipped troops, primarily from Bangladesh and Ghana, commanded by Canadian General Romeo Dallaire. Through the early months of 1994, it was becoming progressively clearer that radical elements of the Hutu government were planning a genocide. General Dallaire repeatedly warned the United Nations Security Council that the situation was deteriorating and he needed more troops, equipment and authorization to use force to protect civilians. Rather than provide General Dallaire with these requests, the Security Council cut his force and restricted his mission. When the genocide began, he could do little but watch as the killing went on. Dozens of his own soldiers were killed or wounded during the genocide. In early July 1994, the Tutsi army captured Kigali and most of the Rwanda ending the genocide. The Hutu perpetrators fled to neighboring Zaire (Congo) were their presence was a major cause in the deadliest conflict since the end of World War II – the first and second Congo Wars.

General Dallaire has stated that he could have stopped the genocide with as few as 5,000 properly equipped soldiers with authorization to use force. Former United States President Bill Clinton said in 2013 that as few as 10,000 United States soldiers in the first weeks of the genocide could have saved 300,000 Rwandans. The reasons there were no United States troops for Rwanda is because of Somalia. Just a few months before the genocide, the United States had fought the Battle of Mogadishu taking severe casualties. The United States was in the process of withdrawing from African peace keeping missions when the Rwandan genocide began. Additionally, the Tutsi rebels were backed by the United States and the Hutu Rwandan government was backed by France. This unusual situation of allies supporting different sides in the conflict stymied any international intervention. Countries with wealth and power will always be faced with a quandary of when to intervene in less developed countries to stop internal strife. Many interventions don’t achieve their stated goals and the intervening country frequently regrets getting involved. The Rwandan Genocide shows all to painfully that when outside countries don’t intervene when they should have, you can’t undo the carnage.

The little boy whose picture is on the banner of this ride’s website is one of the child victims shown in the Genocide Memorial in Kigali. I will always be haunted by his last words “The UN soldiers will come for us”. The thought that he and 1,000,000 other victims died thinking the same thing should be a tragic lesson that is not soon forgotten by the international community.

The Ride for the Survivors

“We don’t choose the things we believe in. They choose us.” I once heard this in a film and never was it more true than my involvement with Rwandan genocide survivors.

When I was in college, I had intended to join the Peace Corps after graduating. Unfortunately, this plan got sidetracked by various personal issues and never came to fruition. About 6 years ago, I circled back around to that idea. Unlike the carefree days of my young twenties, I now had a wife, child and a business to run. Because of these commitments, I couldn’t leave on a long term overseas assignment but I was interested in spending a few weeks a year volunteering. Luckily, my almost ridiculously supportive wife approved of that plan. Almost as randomly as spinning a globe and putting my finger down, I chose Uganda. I purchased a guide book which contained the names of some NGO’s that accepted short term volunteers. I started emailing them and found one that would be happy to have me. I spent two weeks painting schools near the Nile River and touring Uganda. The next year I went to Kenya and spent two weeks working in an orphanage on the Indian Ocean coast and touring Kenya. As awesome as those two trips were, they weren’t exactly what I was looking for. I really was looking for an opportunity to use my skill sets in accounting and business to help improve peoples’ lives in a way that wasn’t being accomplished by local professionals. The next year I chose Rwanda and emailed the Survivors Fund. It turned out they really needed someone who knew QuickBooks to come and help some of their partner organizations implement that software program. Since I had been working with QuickBooks on a daily basis for over a decade that turned out to be a great fit. Last month I made my fifth trip to Rwanda and I am now a trustee of the Survivors Fund.

My involvement with the Survivors Fund has been one of the most rewarding endeavors of my entire life.  The 1994 Rwandan Genocide was an ethnic cleansing that occurred in the midst of a civil war in the tiny Central African country of Rwanda.  From April 7, 1994 to July 15, 1994, approximately 1,000,000 ethnic Tutsis were murdered in horrific violence.  This was approximately 10% of the entire country’s population.  When the violence ended, Rwanda laid in ruins.  There are approximately 400,000 survivors of the 1994 genocide living in Rwanda. They are primarily widows and orphans. During the past 19 years, they have received almost no meaningful reparations or meaningful aid. The genocide perpetrators have been sentenced to shamefully inadequate punishments at both the local level where individuals have been tried and at the international level where the planners were tried by the United Nations for crimes against humanity. It is not uncommon for a man who has murdered and raped to be in prison for a few years and then return to his village and be living next door to the survivors of the family who he victimized. Meanwhile, the survivors live with psychological trauma, AIDS infection, and loss of family real estate, property and financial income. The Survivors Fund has been one of the most effective NGO’s in securing grants for programs to aid these widows and orphans. In most cases, when a program can help them, it is the first time in their lives they have received any aid. Unfortunately, there are so many survivors, the Survivors Fund can’t help nearly all of them. It will require aid that can only be funded on a governmental level. There is a movement to establish a trust fund for the survivors that would be chartered through the United Nations and funded by donor countries. This would not be unprecedented as it has been done in other countries, namely in the Democratic Republic of Congo (Rwanda’s neighbor). It is our feeling, that the 20th anniversary may very well represent a now or never moment for the establishment of this trust fund. To this end, we are doing everything humanly possible to raise awareness for the 20th anniversary and the ongoing plight of the survivors.

About the time I was making my first trip to Uganda, I was well over 300 pounds. Sadly, that was about 50 pounds down from my heaviest weight. I had been walking a few miles every day to exercise but I was starting to develop plantar fasciitis. I decided to switch to cycling to try and reduce the stress on my feet. I bought a low end mountain bike and started riding it for an hour every day. Because of my weight, I constantly had to take it into the shop for repairs. I became a regular at my local bike shop – Blue Line Bike Lab. Blue Line is owned and operated by two brothers, Fred and Dave, who I came to know pretty well. My confidence on a bike was pretty much non-existent. In addition to being huge and out of shape, I didn’t know anything about bicycles. I didn’t even know how to change a flat which resulted in a few phone calls to my wife and/or taxis to come pick me up. After coming in regularly for two years, they finally convinced me through their constant encouragement to step up to a better bike and start riding with their group. I realized pretty quickly that even though I was bigger than everyone else, I had developed some pretty good stamina by riding every day. I didn’t have too much trouble keeping up with everyone. Around this same time, I decided to join weight watchers. I was 37 and my goal was to be back to 200 pounds or less by my 40th birthday. During the first two years, I kept getting faster and going further. I completed the MS 150 which is a two day 150 mile ride from Houston to Austin. However, on my 39th birthday, I was still 65 pounds away from 200. I needed to do something drastic. That’s when I thought of riding a bicycle across Rwanda to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the genocide. I wanted to do something substantial on a personal level for it. The 20th anniversary also happens to be a few months after my 40th birthday. If I planned and promoted a bicycle ride across MOUNTAINOUS, HIGH ALTITUDE Rwanda, I would have to lose that final 65 pounds. For the past year, my mantra has been “failure is not an option”. I exercised even harder every day. I counted my weight watcher points meticulously. I attended meetings every week. 6 months after my 39th birthday, I got below 200 pounds for the first time in almost 20 years. As a major bonus to all this riding, Fred, the co-owner of Blue Line, who has heard me talk about Rwanda on countless rides together, decided he wanted to come along as well. I couldn’t be happier to have my cycling mentor to be joining me on this amazing trip.

Now, I am ready to combine my passion for helping the genocide survivors with my passion for cycling. I have seen firsthand the power of cycling to change people’s live, individually and for entire causes. I am asking you for two things. Firstly, please spread the word about the 20th anniversary and this ride. You can tell your friends, family, co-workers and neighbors about it. Better yet, if you happen to know a journalist, tell them. This is a compelling story, and I feel that many journalists would like to know about. Secondly, and as it does come down to with charitable causes, we need money. Any donations will go directly to support survivors. NONE of the costs of this trip will be paid from any donations. Please consider supporting this even if that is only telling one other person.