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Foreigners paddling towards cleaner, healthier Himachal (Lead, correcting para three)
Shimla, Oct 1 - Foreigners are literally paddling towards a cleaner and healthier countryside in Himachal Pradesh.
The central government's ambitious programme Swachh Bharat Abhiyan may not be on their agenda, but they were racing towards generating awareness among school children and local villagers on the importance of hygiene and sanitation while negotiating sharp curves.
They are associated with the eight-day 13th Hero MTB (mountain biking) Himalaya race that began from the state capital on September 29 and will culminate in Dharamsala town after traversing largely over tiny hamlets spread over 650 km on October 7.
"A team of eight volunteers, comprising six foreigners, are part of our social initiatives, mainly Mission Smile this year," Mohit Sood, President of the Himalayan Adventure Sports and Tourism Promotion Association (HASTPA), the local club that organises the MTB Himalaya rally, told IANS.
Mission Smile, the fourth year in succession that runs along with the MTB Himalaya race, is a HASTPA's social initiative that aims to educate the children and their parents to eradicate open defecation and improve hygiene.
The so-called 'Ambassadors of Hygiene' every day visit around eight government schools located along the race route and educate the students along with their teachers and parents through interactions and distributing booklets published by HASTPA.
One of the schools they visited on Sunday was located in the interiors of Kullu district. The schools were opened despite being a weekend holiday.
"We are really impressed by the level of awareness among the students about hygiene and sanitation besides keeping the local environment neat and clean even in a remote village like this," Susan Padrones from Spain told IANS over the phone.
She said it was really an incredible and enriching experience interacting with these children in the remote beautiful parts of the Himalayas last time too as part of Mission Smile.
"I was so overwhelmed by their love and warmth so wanted to return and contribute to their growth. This time I brought some books as gifts for these children," she added.
Her husband Jorge Padrones is a participant in the Hero MTB Himalaya rally for the third consecutive time.
He's supporting the fight against leukemia through the Josep Carreras Foundation of Spain.
"They educated us how the sanitation has a strong linkage not only with our hygiene but also with our dignity," Neha Thakur, a class 10 student of Government Senior Secondary School in Shwad village in Anni tehsil Kullu district, said.
The school is located some 130 km from the state capital, one of the remotest places in the state.
Clasina Voets, wife of another biker Pedro Campos from Portugal, is impressed with the education level of the locals.
"People here are seem more conscious about their personal hygiene, besides concerned over change in climatic conditions that is drying up local natural water resources and affecting the local biodiversity," she added.
A team of bikers representing Orphans Africa is imparting education on adopting children.
In the Hero MTB Himalaya's last edition, German photographer Stefan Wiebel, representing the Rocky Mountain MTB team, raised a charity by selling his pictures back home.
This time Wiebel will contribute a part of his charity towards the outreach HASTPA's Mission Smile, rally organisers said.
Ninety-two intrepid riders from 16 countries are participating in the Hero MTB Himalaya rally.
The top ranking professional participants include Cory Wallace from Canada, Antonio Ortiz from Portugal and Thomas Engelsgjerd from Norway.
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