Intrepid cyclist tours Europe to help refugees

Donaford Hilton
Donaford Hilton
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Dedicated Donaford Hilton cycled 500 miles across Europe to donate funds to groups helping refugees – only to see his offer of help turned down by a centre in Switzerland.

However, undeterred Donaford, of North End in Portsmouth, continued his mission to deliver the funds to any deserving centres across Europe.

Donaford's bike by the Eiffel Tower

Donaford's bike by the Eiffel Tower

His journey, titled #1man1bike1mission, began on September 25 in Portsmouth when he took the ferry to Le Havre, armed only with a bag, tent and his bicycle.

On arriving at Le Havre port, he travelled to Calais where he visited the site previously known as the Calais Jungle, where he met a young child.

Donaford said: ‘I went to the site of the Calais Jungle. There were names and images all over a wall of people who had been lost in the Syrian crisis and the Calais Jungle.

‘I later saw a young boy trying to climb onto a truck who was trying to get across the channel. He ran from the police and I later spoke to him. His name was Okbit and he explained he wanted to get to the UK and that he liked Manchester United.’

Donaford’s efforts were influenced by a video he encountered on Facebook, detailing the story of a child who had lost their family in the Syrian bombings.

He said: ‘I saw a video on Facebook of a young child in Syria. It made me realise that while everyone has lost a family member, there are kids losing their whole families out there, being left with nothing.’

While on his journey, Donaford has encountered many surprises.

After arriving in Switzerland, he visited a church, home to many refugees. It was here that Donaford offered his donations, only to be told they could not be accepted.

His mum Tina Hilton described what he had told her. Tina said: ‘He told me it had got very cold, resources such as tyres and puncture kits were low and the next bike shop was around 20 miles away. He was disappointed with how his experience at the Switzerland Church had gone.

‘I told him just stay positive and keep smiling. He later told me that his ‘angel’ had arrived in a little white Peugeot. A woman had picked him up and offered him a place to stay in her home in Dijon, and she later took him to the bike shop where his bike was repaired. She saved him from having to walk through the night.’

However, the trip has not been unsuccessful.

When he got to Paris, Donaford visited a humanitarian centre for refugees. While he was unable to meet any refugees, he was able to purchase and donate around £300 worth of toys to the centre, in which they accepted. This was the moment that Donaford said was his favourite part of the journey.

So far, Donaford has raised almost £1,250 on his JustGiving page.

While there has been no particular centre Donaford has wished to donate to, he said he wanted to deliver donations personally rather than to a company.

‘I wanted to give money directly to a centre, rather than a large corporation. I’m in touch with various centres now and if need be, I’ll fly back out to whoever is willing to accept my donations directly.’

Mum Tina said how proud she was of Donaford, and wanted to raise awareness of his upbringing.

Tina said: ‘I felt like I wanted to raise some awareness because Don was not a privileged child.

‘I had always tried to teach Donaford and his three younger sisters to remain strong and positive and that good will come, in one form or another.

‘I am so proud of the wonderful person Don has become, he deserves so much recognition for what he has done.

‘He is a modern day knight on a dirty bicycle! Don is living, breathing proof that in the face of adversity you can overcome with love, kindness and humanity.’

Donaford says he wants to continue to raise money locally for children that are less fortunate.