From left: Sophie van Hoof, Carlijn Bettink, Lidewij Ponjee and Monique van der Veeken
After getting their Master’s degree, four Dutch girls decided to travel from Jakarta to Amsterdam on a pair of red tandem bikes to raise awareness for women’s rights.
Carlijn Bettink, Lidewij Ponjee, Sophie van Hoof and Monique van der Veeken -- the four founding members of the R4WR (Ride for Women’s Rights) foundation -- started cycling last September in Indonesia.
They've since passed through Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia and arrived in Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh City last Saturday.
The R4WR girls plan to ride 14,000 km through 22 countries across Southeast Asia, Central Asia, Western Asia, Eastern Europe and Western Europe in 400 days.
During their low-budget journey to explore different cultures, they have visited (and will visit) projects dedicated to women's rights, including Plan International and Care International, which advocate for rights to education, the right to gender equality and the right to family planning.
The four girls are close friends who grew up together in the same village, and graduated at nearly the same time. At the age of 24, they started thinking seriously about what to do next.
In one of the first weeks of their journey they were cycling in East Java, Indonesia, and after a long day they arrived at a police station in the middle of nowhere.
There were no shops or places to eat except for one restaurant which looked like it had closed. When the only soul in sight awoke, he invited the girls inside to sit on the only four chairs the restaurant had.
After using sign language to tell him they were very hungry, the man disappeared into a small kitchen and twenty minutes later emerged with two enormous fish, the best meal they've eaten so far.
“That's the fun part of cycling: it brings you to places which you would normally never find,” Bettink, chairman of the R4WR, recalled.
Their route has remained rather fluid.
The R4WR girls in Thailand
Several weeks ago, the group received an email asking if they were interested in visiting Rebicycle Accessories in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
Women with the organization Joy of Cambodia make earrings, necklaces and bracelets from bicycle tires.
The girls interviewed each woman and took their portraits, which they plan to upload onto their website and blogs.
They now all sport earrings made from bicycle tires.
The girls said their families were initially reluctant about their journey, but have gradually became more supportive.
The projects they've visited have given them an opportunity to talk to girls and women from different backgrounds.
“We hope to explore the meaning of women's rights in different contexts by talking to both women and men in the countries we visit and by visiting local women's projects to give a voice to stories which we think are of value,” said Bettink.
They share the experiences and stories of the women they meet on their blogs, Facebook pages and the R4WR website.
People all along their route have contacted them online to offer them free accommodation.
Ho Chi Minh City has offered the girls a welcome pit stop where they plan to recharge their bodies, before heading up toward Hanoi and beyond.
They hope to visit projects run by Plan Vietnam along the way.
Followers can keep track of their 400-day adventure by visiting the foundation's website at www.r4wr.org or clicking the “Like” button on their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/R4WR.org.