For 26 kids from all over the world, this summer break is about doing the impossible — or at least the extremely difficult. They’re biking 3,000 miles across America to draw attention to the persecution of those who following the spiritual practice of Falun Gong.
Ride 2 Freedom brought together a group of young Falun Gong practitioners, some as young as 11, from 15 countries for the two-month journey.
Nearing the end of the trip, the riders will stop to rally at Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia Sunday.
None of the riders have any professional cycling experience. They were united by a desire to share the story of Falun Gong and bring five Chinese children orphaned by the persecution to safety in America.
New Jersey native Kristine Feng, 15, said she’s riding to bring an end to the persecution against the peaceful meditation practice that has tormented its practitioners for longer than she’s been alive.
“Falun Gong is not a crime,” Feng said. “There’s a reason that it spread to over a hundred million people at one point in China. That scared the Chinese government. They felt that their power was threatened, they thought that too many people were practicing it, and that’s why there’s this huge genocide going on.”
Falun Gong originated in China in 1992, as a meditation and exercise-based practice. After quickly winning millions of followers with its core principles of truthfulness, compassion, and forbearance, it was deemed a cult by the Chinese Community Party in 1999.
Reports from the United Nations and Human Rights Watch confirm that practitioners have been detained, sent to re-education centers, and subjected to mental and physical abuse, including torture.
Data collected on the persecution in the insulated nation is difficult to confirm, but the Falun Dafa Information Center claims more than 3,000 related deaths have been documented.
Falun Gong practitioners in China are forced to practice privately or be subject to arrest.
‘Nothing that makes me different’
Nikita Kraiouchkine, a 17-year-old from Pennsylvania who represents Russia in the ride, said Falun Gong is a way of life he’s practiced with his family since age 8.
“Throughout the day, I follow truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance, I do four exercises and I meditate,” Kraiouchkine said. “Really other than that, I’m a normal person. There’s nothing that makes me different from other people.”
On its 45-day trip, Ride 2 Freedom has stopped in more than a dozen cities to meet with lawmakers, hold rallies with the public, and tell people what’s happening in China.
The riders are practicing Falun Gong on the road, which Feng said has helped them physically and mentally.
“It’s been like a form of team bonding,” she said.
While the cross-country ride allows the team to spread awareness across a wide terrain, Ride 2 Freedom declares its ultimate mission as “kids saving kids.”
“Nowadays, adults are usually the ones who are doing the human rights activities,” Feng said. “This project has given me an opportunity to stand up for the voiceless children in China who are my age, or younger or older.”
While the riders come from all over the world, Feng said the decision to ride across America was a conscious one.
“America is such a powerful country, but it’s also founded on the freedom of religion,” she said. “Here, you have the freedom to believe in what you want and live in whatever way you choose.”
The ride will officially finish in Washington, D.C., but the team will travel to New York later this month to address the U.N. General Assembly about the issue.