It’s 5am in Johannesburg, during one of the coldest winters on record, and cyclists are streaming into Tintswalo at Waterfall to participate in a 40km cycle. This will be the first leg of a solitary and gruelling journey that’s set to take over 9 weeks, covering a distance of more than 5,500 km.

As the ‘challenger’ and Foundation Director, Thabang Skwambane (31), arrives he’s met by an overwhelming scene where members of the public and cycle clubs have congregated to offer their support for one of Sub-Saharan Africa’s most critical concerns – Orphans and Vulnerable Children.

“Although this is The Lonely Road Challenge, I can’t say that I feel alone. Just looking at the fantastic turnout and enormous support gives me strength and purpose” says Thabang humbly while bidding goodbye to emotional family members and friends. “People who’ve never even met me have come through, and donations are coming in steadily from complete strangers. That’s the part I can’t get over!” exclaims Thabang, as members of the press gather to ask their final questions.

The Lonely Road Foundation is proud to launch The Lonely Road Challenge, the longest and loneliest road-trip, which aims to create awareness and raise money for children orphaned or made vulnerable by HIV/AIDS.

The journey, which begins in Johannesburg and travels through Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi and Tanzania, is but the first step. Once in Tanzania, Thabang will be joined by a team, including DJ Fresh and Catherine from 5FM, who will climb Kilimanjaro to summit Uhuru Peak, the highest peak in Africa.

This challenge is a symbolic gesture and poignant reminder of the lives of orphans and vulnerable children - they grow up alone and unsupported, and upon reaching adulthood are expected to be well adjusted citizens who make a positive contribution to society - 'a mountain to climb at the end of their lonely road'.

5FM is The Lonely Road Challenge’s official media broadcaster and Catherine Strydom, who co-hosts The Fresh Drive, attended the launch event. She took a few minutes to wish Thabang well on behalf of 5FM, adding: “We’re approached daily by great initiatives that never see the light of day. When Thabang contacted 5FM we knew immediately that this was a cause worthy and one that we wanted to get involved in”.

5FM and their 1.4 million listeners across the country will be linking up with Thabang on his journey via regular calls to his satellite phone, so while Thabang is alone on the road he’s supported by millions. Showing their commitment to our country’s children, DJ Fresh and Catherine will bring The Lonely Road Challenge to a close with a live broadcast from Crater Camp on Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest radio broadcast in the history of the African continent!

"5FM is very excited & proud to support such a worthy and unique social upliftment project. The Lonely Road campaign takes us across Africa and 5FM will be travelling along all the way, providing daily live satellite updates direct from Thabang's bicycle on The Fresh Drive - all in anticipation of Fresh and Catherine tackling Mount Kilimanjaro themselves... Watch this space!" says Carlito Sheikh, 5FM programme manager.

It will take 4 days of cycling for Thabang to reach Botswana, the next country on the route. Thabang spent part of his childhood there but the situation has changed over the last 10 years. Now Botswana is faced with a unique challenge relative to other SADC countries, with HIV/AIDS affecting almost 1/3 of the population in the 15 – 45 age group, evenly spread across rural and urban communities. “It’s important for me to address and explore some of the challenges faced by each of the countries I visit. We, as South Africans, can’t live in isolation especially when faced with such devastation” says Thabang.

To send a fund-raising message of support to Thabang, text your message to 38131 (each SMS charged at R10) or make a donation via the DONATE button on the website.

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