Ever ridden on horseback through remote regions of Rajastan? Ever delivered hundreds of eye surgeries to remote villagers during that ride? Ever brought goats with you to donate to the families most in need? Ever won a UN Positive Peace Award for those humanitarian efforts? No? Neither had we, but we recently caught up with someone who had – Alexander Souri – founder of Relief Riders International.
Another living example of the meaning of a true muchbetter adventure, Relief Riders International (RRI) is a humanitarian-based, adventure travel company that organizes horseback journeys through breathtaking areas in the Thar Desert of Rajasthan, India.
MBA: Adventures and humanitarianismit’s a blend we share. Where did it all begin for you Alexander?
Alexander: I have been lucky enough to lead a very diverse life, but I started Relief Riders when I was probably at my most broke. I could barely afford to eat and didnt have a car, but I had reached that point of realisation where meaning is far more important than money. I was asking myself what can be done to help the amazing places we visit, and Relief Riders just came from that.
MBA: So why this region of India?
Alexander: I grew up in New York until I was nine, but my Indian father actually sent me school in the Himalayas at that point. He wanted me to connect with my roots, and I guess it worked!
MBA: and why the horses?
Alexander: I seemed to bond with horses the minute I first sat on one. The Mawari horse, the indigenous horse of India, is just stunning and I have always felt a strong pull towards them. Going from New York to school in India was quite a shock for a nine year old who didnt speak the language, and horse riding was kind of my escape. Dad gave me a horse and I used to head out all the time. There was no culture of pleasure riding there then – horses were a tool of work – so I used to confuse a lot of people!
MBA: You treat hundreds if not thousands on every trip you do. How many expert staff, medics, doctors etc typically go with you?
Alexander: It really depends on the circumstances and how many paying guests we have with us as to how much we can achieve. On one trip 18 people cancelled at the last minute which left us with only 3 in the group. I didnt think we could make the projects happen, but I explained this to the 3 left and they each gave an extra $500 so that the relief mission could still take place.
As a not for profit we often get people asking why our riding tours are the same price and not cheaper than for profit alternatives. As a society we are so driven and conditioned by price it can be hard to look beyond that and see that as well as an incredible horse riding experience, stunning landscapes, wildlife and cultural encounters, the money pays for us to deliver a full blown relief operation in conjunction with the Indian Red Cross.
MBA: Are these year round camps doing surgery etc, or just on the days of your visit? Its hard to believe you have treated so many people!
Alexander: No, its all done in a blitz, but it is much harder now than it used to be. The government has stopped allowing rural surgeries due to the many problems that can arise without proper after care. So now people are screened at the camp on the day of the ride, them and their family has to be transported to a city where they stay for 3 days, before been taken back and followed up 2 weeks later. So what used to be 2 days works on the ride is now 15 days and spread across a number of our trips.
MBA: How do you decide which families get goats?
Alexander: A good question! It used to be the village official, who can decide based on who are the poorest families in the village, but we had a few occasions where it turned out there was corruption going on, so now we use the principle of the local schools, who are more in touch with the local families. The goat giving ceremony is the most moving aspect of every ride. Handing a goat, a symbol of life, to some of the poorest people on this planet never fails to move you. It is not without it problems though, and we have had difficulty with the whole event being used for political purposes by local politicians trying to milk the moment.
MBA: Relief Riders has had some great publicity and seems to be going from strength to strength. What advice would you give to others with a similar vision in other parts of the world who are struggling to deliver in the same way?
Alexander: Just do it and dont give up or talk yourself out of it. You couldnt put my skills and experiences together and think that would be the perfect blend to make Relief Riders happen. You can never know enough, but you can learn what you don’t know. So be a dreamer and make it happen.
Article taken from the MuchBetter Adventure Mag. Sign up for it here