I was contacted to attend the Harley-Davidson’s Open House 2012 – “Join the Ride, Change Lives” late last month. And to be honest, I thought it was no more than a marketing event where people will get-together for the sake of it and will chat about the new range of Harley-Davidson Motorcycles for 2013, have drinks and snacks and call it a day. But when I told that the event is being held to raise funds for the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) to feed school children, that crazy thought just disappeared and I decided to join the activity without a second thought. The promise of riding on a Harley-Davidson bike and having an exhilarating journey, combined with a noble cause was very hard to give up. So I had to be there for all the right reasons and at all costs…
It was early Saturday morning on 13 October, when participants had to meet at ENOC Petrol Station on Al Khail Road, Dubai. Bikers had also gathered there and were mingling with each other. Many of them were posing next to their bikes and posting it on their social networks instantly.
Very soon, all the participants assembled to listen to the set of instructions about the ride and discuss the route. Many of the bikers volunteered to become the parade coordinators and put on their high-visibility jackets on. The rally leader also assigned me to a biker who was also one of the coordinators.
Wissam, a biker of stocky built, was my partner. He handed me the helmet, which thankfully fitted perfectly, and asked not to move a lot while taking photographs on the bike as it could be dangerous for both of us. That meant I had to sit tight while on duty!
At sharp 9:10am, the parade began and all the bikers, including a few non-Harley-Davidson riders, set off for the epic journey.
After arriving at the Harley-Davidson showroom, I got the chance to speak to Elise Bijon, UN World Food Programme’s Partnerships & Business Development Manager MENA, Eastern Europe and Central Asia. The French aid worker said that she has been working for the WFP for over a year and raising awareness in the Middle East about hunger and poverty.
When asked about the programme, she said: “Our mandate is very clear which is to fight hunger. We feed over 90 million people in more than 70 countries every year. We are involved in both emergency operations and long-term development programmes which are aimed at eradicating hunger and poverty.”
When asked how the bike ride will benefit the cause, she explained: “One of the WFP programmes is our school meals programme. It is a flagship programme whereby we feed poor school children and provide them meals, and in some cases, give them food rations to take home and feed their family.
“This serves as a powerful incentive for poor families to send their kids go to school and keep them there.”
The young UN aid coordinator from Paris added that this is the very reason we’re supporting Harley-Davidson’s initiative this year as most of the funds come through voluntary donations. “We try to partner with the best and Harley-Davidson is definitely one of them,” Elise Bijon said with a big smile.
Out of curiosity, I asked her how can my ride help feed school children in poor Middle Eastern countries like the Yemen, Somalia, Palestine, Syria, Iraq and elsewhere, to which she replied: “Today Harley-Davidson are selling a special pin, of which all the proceeds will go to the WFP. Each pin purchased will help feed 30 school children a day.”
On teaming up with Harley-Davidson, the UN humanitarian said: “We’re with them because we share the same spirit of solidarity. We find it very genuine. They also have a very long history of community services and command a huge popularity among the general public. They’re really helping us spread the message and raise awareness and it has transformed into a very interesting partnership.”
Elise, with a shine in her eyes, said that today’s target was to raise money to feed 100,000 schoolchildren for a day. “So for a dirham ($0.27) is enough to provide a meal to a kid. Now I’ll let you do the math,” she said with a big grin on her face.
The next person I spoke to was Paul De Jongh, country manager Harley-Davidson, who said that the “Join the Ride, Change Lives” Open House Day was a great success which was attended by 233 riders. He added that the company launched its 2013 model year line of the most dazzling motorcycles earmarked with big bold metal finishes that attest to Harley’s long-standing riding legacy.
The tall and enthusiastic South African executive, who had his first Harley-Davidson ride when he was just 5-years-old as a birthday present, said the company will be marking 2013 as the 110th anniversary of the iconic brand starting from Milwaukee all the way to Rome and in dozens of other cities all across the globe and commemorating decades of classic motorcycles and classic good times.
With regards to the involvement in humanitarian causes, he said: “We joined our hands with the World Food Programme last year where we hold a parade in every city of the MENA region when we launch Open House to celebrate our efforts and create awareness about impoverished children in the region.
“If you consider that we are a brand that excels in fulfilling dreams, there are so many impoverished children out there whose dreams we’d also like to fulfil. So this is a combined effort between us, our customers and the WFP every year. We do this parade and raise awareness for the cause.”
He then presented me a beautiful metallic pin and said that buying one will help feed 30 schoolchildren for a day.
Talking about his experiences of Harley-Davidson he said: “When you buy a Harley-Davidson, two things happen: You instantly became part of the biggest group of friends in the world. There is an automatic acknowledgement of each other on the road, whether you know each other or not. You also become part of something where self-expression is a given. When you look at people’s motorcycles, you realise it is an artistic self-expression of who they are.
“The brand, through customisation, allows people that. You must have seen this morning people standing next to their bikes and how they feel about it. So this is a wonderful way of self-expression, the freedom of the open road, the escapism that comes with it. It’s just amazing to see so many people coming for a single cause!”
Paul De Jongh concluded: “We are so proud to see the MENA region expanding with great demand from loyal riders to attracting new ones on board. This year’s Open House parade proved to be a great success in its second year and we thank everyone who participated and made this event happen.”