Cycling for Cambodia

From Voices, 3:30 pm on 20 April 2015

Family effort Solary husband Kevin and daughter Harley
A family effort, Solary with her husband Kevin and daughter Harley

I'm not an athlete. I haven't ridden a bicycle since I was at primary school! - Solary Ha, Cycling for Cambodia, Red Cross Fundraiser, Oct 2015

She might not be an athlete but Solary Ha dreams big. Solary Ha came to New Zealand as a baby from a Cambodian refugee camp in Thailand. She’s now a successful Human Resources Adviser and a working mum based in Auckland. 

She wants to give back by taking part in Cycling for Cambodia a Red Cross fundraiser, a 270km, four day cycling tour across Cambodia. Her Sydney based sister Anna is also joining Solary on the challenge, so they are training simultaneously in their respective cities. Solary tells me the Red Cross is a worthwhile cause.

The Red Cross helped Cambodian refugees during the genocide. Where ever the need is, the Red Cross helps out, war or natural disasters.

I'm trotting as fast as I can behind Solary on her bicycle through the suburb of Mount Wellington. We're heading to the local park where she and husband Kevin often take their three-year-old daughter Harley to play.

Solary tells me she is definitely not an athlete. So this won't exactly be a holiday - it means Solary needs to train hard over the next few months to build up body strength (and a calloused bottom at the very least!), but this is also a deeply personal journey.

This will be the first time Solary returns to  Cambodia and the first time she’ll meet her grandmother and other relatives. 

Solary's parents fled the genocide under Pol Pots regime in Cambodia. From 1975 to 1979 Cambodia was turned upside down Solary tells me.

It wasn't just to kill educated people but to kill their whole family, their whole blood-line. My parents as teenagers escaped and went to Thailand. They spent a lot of years in refugee camps. That's where they met and where I was born.

"My sister and I have always felt a connection with Cambodia, we've appreciated what our parents have been through, the genocide. You're always aware of the history - they teach the killing fields at primary school. My sister and I have always made an effort to understand."

Family history

Do your parents talk much about their experience during this time?

"No, and because my parents don't talk about their experiences, it might be easy to forget. We want Harley to understand how lucky she is being born here, with everything she needs and family who love her."

I was born in a refugee camp. I was one when we came here. We were sponsored to come. When my mother came to New Zealand she left her whole family behind at first.

"My parents made a huge sacrifices, they came here with no English and no money. I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for my parents. I could still be in Cambodia right now living on a couple of dollars a day."

Solary and daughter HarleyYour husband Kevin, he's Chinese/Vietnamese and he has a refugee background too?

"Yes, his mother fled the war in Vietnam. She was one of the boat people who survived. She left her whole family including my husband as a child. She came to new Zealand on her own. When she came here she didn't see her children or family for quite a few years until she could sponsor them over."

So family reunification would have been fantastic for everyone?

"Yeah, that's all we've known, our small family here. So getting my mother and her sister, my aunty together along with other family after 20 years was amazing."

Are you catching up with your grandmother before or after the cycle challenge?

"I'll catch up with my grandmother during the challenge. She doesn't know I'm coming. I want to surprise her."

Solary's exercise regime began some months ago. Currently she's training for the Partners Life Dual bike challenge, a 26km ride around Auckland’s Motutapu Island as part of her build up. "But it's not about going on a holiday," she tells me, "I've had to push myself. I bought a bike in December [2014]. Just even trailing the bike when I was buying it, I'm a complete amateur!"

So this is going to be the biggest challenge of your life?

"Yes, but we've had such amazing support and especially from the Cambodian community. Anna and I set up a Facebook page. One anonymous donor gave a big donation with a lovely quote - life is like a bicycle, you just need to keep riding!"

Training for the big one Solary's family, including husband Kevin and daughter Harley are her biggest supporters. They have many family outings on their bicycles, they all want to see Solary succeed. Even friends have joined in, creating the Avengers Bike Club - that's Kevin and his cycling mates and Solary as the honorary female cyclist.

Come early November this year, at the end of the cycle challenge, Kevin and Harley will join Solary and Aunty Anna in Cambodia so they can meet their Cambodian family members. It looks like Solary's grandmother (Harley's great-grandmother) might have the best surprise family reunion ever.