She could have spent the summer in air-conditioned comfort in Dubai, but 21-year-old Ghazal Tavanaei chose to Ride2Freedom instead. She and other young people are cycling from Los Angeles to New York in order to raise awareness of the persecution of Falun Gong in China. The group intends to rescue five Falun Gong orphans from China.
According to the group’s open letter to President Barack Obama, “Ride2Freedom is a team of two dozen youths representing sixteen countries who have embarked on a 3,000 mile bike ride across America to rescue children orphaned by the persecution of Falun Gong,” which is a spiritual practice of exercise and meditation, following the principles of Truth, Compassion, and Forbearance. “Falun Gong practitioners continue to be jailed, tortured, and murdered for their beliefs,” according to the letter. “Even worse, the children of these practitioners are left homeless and abandoned, with no one to care for them.”
Tavanaei is from Iran. Her family moved to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates when she was 11. She was moved by the idea of Ride2Freedom. She said at first she had no idea she would be able to join it. “I knew about the project earlier on Instagram,” she said. “I found the idea so amazing and so great.”
A Shared Wish
All the young cyclists share the same wish, according toTavanaei. “We want to help bring freedom of belief to China, to people who want to follow truth, compassion, tolerance. We want to bring more awareness.”
The group has talked to people along the way, been honored by state legislatures, held press conferences, visited police stations, taken selfies in stores, gone home with a police officer, had a booth at a festival, given speeches and posted updates and stories on social media. They will hold a rally in Washington DC on July 17, and have asked the president for an appointment. They will speak at the United Nations.
“I just want to say, continue to support us. We are like their voice,” said Tavanaei. “We have to be their voice, so people will wake up, when they know there is a genocide, they will all stand up.” She said social media is a powerful tool and people can help by posting their support of Ride2Freedom on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other platforms.
America is Special
For her, America is a special place. “Because America is a land of freedom of belief, of speech, of information, since this is the nature of the country, I want the leaders, all the people, to support freedom of belief for China as well.” To her, it does not matter what country a person is from. “We are all brothers and sisters,” whether from Iran, Argentina, America … “if we are enjoying the right of freedom of belief, if someone doesn’t have it, we should help them to get it.”
She did not know she would be able to speak up for the Falun Gong practitioners in this way. It was an unexpected confluence of circumstances.
She and her father traveled to New York in mid-May for the International Falun Dafa Experience Sharing Conference, and then took “a pleasure trip” around America.
The trip was set to end at the beginning of June. Ride2Freedom started June 1. “When my leisure trip ended I advised my Dad I wanted to join Ride2Freedom. He was very happy for me,” said Tavanaei.
“It must be my destiny!” said Tavanaei, with a cheerful laugh.
Because she is a recent university graduate,Tavanaei was able to be flexible. She majored in film production and journalism and does some freelance production work. She also works for her father in his Iran-based manufacturing business.
Some of the riders had to get special permission to travel. “Many of the riders are in high school or even younger. When their schools saw the importance of the project they let them off. At the beginning a lot of them were doing homework and helping each other study” at night while they were camping, after traveling all day, said Tavanaei.
The group has bonded. “Each one has taught me something new,” said Tavanaei. “I feel like they are all so close. I feel like they are my brothers and sisters. We should cherish these moments.”
She said she was not sure how to answer the question of what is hardest about the feat. Coming from the Middle East, she said she had not often experienced cold weather, so the windy and chilly rides through the Rocky Mountains were “quite difficult.” She had not done anything like it before. “Camping, in the trails and the forests,” is different from the luxurious life of Dubai. But the fun part is mixed with the hardships. “After you overcome a trouble you will laugh about it.”
Cat Rooney contributed to this report
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