Cycle for mental health…Four women, four bicycles, too much luggage and one great cause.

This is the post excerpt.


Who: Helena, Aja, Antonia and Marie.

What: Cycling to raise money for the Brain Gain Project at Butabika Hospital, Kampala, Uganda.

When: We are starting 4th April 2017. Yes, the rainy season.

Where from: Rwanda, the land of thousand hills.

Where to: We are heading to Tanzania and Malawi, then somewhere south of the Equator. Follow the blog to find out where we end up.

How to support the project: Donate on this link:


Also, follow us on: 


All money raised goes directly to the Brain Gain project in Kampala.

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Day 1. Ready for the hills?
About the Brain Gain Project:

I have had the privilege of working for the Brain Gain Project at Butabika Hospital for the last 10 months. The project is funded through the Health Partnership Scheme, which is in turn funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID) and managed by the Tropical Health and Education Trust (THET). The initial two-year peer working scheme (2012-13) trained ex-patients to provide home visits and ward-based outreach in Kampala, improving the scale and quality of service provision while tackling stigma and discrimination.


The success of this initial programme resulted in the inception of Africa’s first Mental Health Recovery College in 2015, the extension of the Peer Working scheme into the wards of Butabika Hospital, and capacity-building for regional mental health services to apply peer working in their contexts. The Recovery College offers recovery-oriented training and education courses to patients, staff, carers and the general public. These courses are coproduced by trained staff and experts by experience, and revolve around Ugandan recovery themes.

A rigorous evaluation of the programme using a Theory of Change methodology is undertaken by colleagues at the Centre for Global Mental Health of London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Peer Support Workers and staff at Butabika Hospital. This may be the first example in sub-Saharan Africa of a mental health project engaging people with lived experience as peer evaluators, rather than simply as research subjects.

Find out more by watching this video of Ugandan Peer Champions


At Butabika, I have worked with some of the most inspiring people I have ever met. People who have faced much adversity, animosity and stigma and still, they are wonderful ambassadors sharing their stories of recovery, raising awareness of mental health and making a real difference in their families, communities and their country.

As the funding period of the Brain Gain Project has come to an end, we are looking for funds to complete its evaluation and demonstrate its effectiveness. We already have some very encouraging results and work closely with the Ministry of Health who support the project. To help with raising finances for the final stage of the evaluation of the project, (i.e. six months follow-up of service users who received peer support work), we have set off on our bicycles through East Africa.

Aja, Marie, Antonia and I are cycling from Kigali in Rwanda, the country of thousand hills, to the border with Tanzania. From Tanzania, it will be just Antonia and I making our way down long dusty roads to Malawi (1200km).

We will be grateful for any contribution you are able to make. No matter how big or small, your donation will have an impact on the lives of patients at Butabika.

“We only have two problems in Kigoma…”

Upon our arrival in Kigoma, we were informed that this place only has two problems: “getting here and getting away”.

We certainly knew about the problems of getting there…

…but since we planned to take the MV Liemba ferry down south to bypass the Mahale Mountain National Park where there are no roads to cycle on and the ferry (which goes twice a month) was cancelled for the second time and an announcement was made that it may go next month depending on the harvest, it was time to look at alternative routes. 

The MV Liemba

After much deliberation, the decision was to get on a train instead of a ferry and head east to Itigi. From here, we would continue south to Malawi. 

Twenty-four hours later, we are in the land of sandy roads through game reserves and national parks, amazing hanging bee hives, sunflowers, beautiful generous people and looking out for lions. 

Malawi next, here we come.

We are very grateful for all the generous donations for the Brain Gain project. 


Facebook page: https://m.facebook.com/Cycle-for-mental-health-785801924913942/

Red dusty roads of West Tanzania

Rusumo to Kigoma (400km)

So…It is just the two of us now, the pirates of Tanzanian roads, dust and red dirt deep in our pores. Our cycling clothes have turned red accordingly and all attempts for washing and cleaning are futile.


An then when the dust is no longer a problem…Cycling in the rainy season.

On our way to Kigoma, we have met some wonderful people. Here is a feast with Simon, a fellow cyclist who met us on the way with a large load of charcoal on his bike, and invited us for dinner with his family – delicious ugali and fish.


After 6 days of cycling, we finally arrived in Kigoma on lake Tanganyika, the second largest lake in Africa, with a plan to rest and then take the MV Liemba ferry all the way to the border with Zambia.


MV Liemba was built in 1913 in Germany and it was used to control Lake Tanganyika during the early part of the First World War. It sails twice a month and as it was cancelled the week we were on our way, we were assured it will sail the following week when we arrive. When we finally got to Kigoma, we found out that it was cancelled again and “might sail in May depending on the harvest”. Cycling south where we wanted to go is not an option as there are no roads through some of the nature reserves. Hmm time to get the map out…


Excuse me, which way is Tanzania?

Route: Kigali to Rusumo

Distance: 120km

After a couple of days in Kigali and numerous visits to this local bike workshop, we were as ready as we could be.



Whose idea was it to start in Rwanda, the country of thousand hills? The uphill battle was a real challenge. Maybe we should have read this excerpt from the Lonely planet before:

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Well, now that our thighs are like those of ‘mountain gorillas’, there is no stopping us. Especially when we have some amazing children cheering us on and even pushing us up those hills while we make up funny songs in our very broken Kinyarwanda.

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Rwanda is a beautiful country with stunning views, green as far as you can see. Endless mountains, coffee, tea and banana plantations, rice fields, papyrus swamps…


This time of year is a difficult time in Rwanda. It was 7th April 1994 when the horrific 100 day of systematic killing of Tutsis began. We visited a number of genocide memorials and wondered about the remarkable healing process this country has gone through after the horrors that took place here.

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Antonia and I were sad to say bye to Aja and Marie as they were only able to join us to the border. Now it will be just the two of us as we peddle on to Tanzania.