Bringing new smiles to children

ROB KNOWLES

A FORMER professional yachtsman, Cape Town-born
Richard Kohler, has taken on a marathon 3 600km canoe trip along the Southern
African coast to give the gift of a new smile to children born with cleft palates.

Cleft lips and cleft palates are variations of a type of congenital deformity caused by
abnormal facial development during gestation. About one in every 700 children
born have a cleft lip and/or a cleft palate.

Kohler’s intention is to paddle around the
coastline, from Namibia to Mozambique,
and raise money for the Miles for Smiles foundation.

TEAMWORK: Paddler Richard Kohler (left) and
his support crew driver, Warren Dykes, are currently canoeing about 3 600km
along the Southern African shoreline, from Namibia to Mozambique, to raise
money to assist children born with cleft
palates to enjoy a normal
life Picture: ROB KNOWLES

“The earlier a cleft lip or palate is
operated on the easier it is to fix,” he told TotT during his two-day stopover
in Port Alfred last week.

His journey started at Alexander Bay
on October 20, but he canoed north first to cross the Namibian border.

Together with the support of friend Warren
Dykes, Kohler sets off early each morning, weather permitting.

“If there’s headwinds or big surf we don’t
go,” he said. “We average two out of three days.”

He paddles for about four to eight hours,
averaging 45km a day, before returning to shore and taking a well-earned rest,
readying himself for the next leg of his epic journey.

Kohler expects to complete the trip at
about the middle to the end of February, and will cross the Mozambican border
to land at
Ponta do Ouro.

“When we complete the trip it will be the
first time anyone has ever successfully paddled along the [entire] coast,” he said.

This is Kohler’s second attempt to complete
the journey. His first, a year ago from Mozambique
to Namibia,
was aborted after only a few weeks due to a series of accidents and events that
made it impossible for him to continue. These included a shark attack at
Sodwana on his third day out, back problems and being robbed.

“Being out on the ocean alone, with only a
radio for comfort, I sometimes laugh when I hear traffic reports from Johannesburg or Cape
Town. There is very little traffic in the ocean, and I
feel lucky to be out there. It’s a great stress reliever,” he said.

Kohler’s was joined by his support man,
Dykes, who flew out from Bognor Regis in the UK on November 15.

“I lived in Cape Town for 30 years,” said Dykes, “and my
son volunteered me for the support role,”

Kohler said it was the immediate benefit to
the children that inspired him to raise money for the Miles for Smiles
Foundation.

“For relatively little money, children can
be given a new life by this surgery,” he said. “So, it’s not like giving food
which is an ongoing thing. This is a one-off operation, but the benefits will
last a lifetime.”

Today (January 10) Kohler is scheduled to
be leaving Kei Mouth. His journey can be followed on Facebook (Paddling for
Smiles), or tracked on either www.multitrack.co.za (user=smile, password=1234)
or http://track.satphone.com (user=sbd.voyager, password=1234). Donations can
also be made on the website.

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