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MIT team plans 8,000-mile adventure

This month, the TechNomads -- a four-person team of MIT students and recent graduates -- will begin a trek around a quarter of the world, visiting 14 countries in a car smaller than a Geo Metro, all in the name of charity.

"Helping the world is the prize," said Nadeem Mazen (S.B. 2006). "The experience is the goal."

The "experience" is the 8,000-mile Mongol Rally, an annual race that draws teams from around the world to London.��This year close to 100 teams will participate in the rally, which starts July 22. Technically, it is not a race, it is an adventure. "If you finish, you win," Mazen said.

Starting from Hyde Park in London, the teams drive cars with engines smaller than one liter -- "the weakest car available," said team member and graduate student Abdulbasier Aziz (S.B. 2006).��The rally ends just outside Ulaan Bataar, Mongolia.

Teams may choose their own routes. Rough routes are available on the Mongol Rally web site, but there is no single officially sanctioned way. Some people travel through Scandinavia, others through the middle of Europe and some through the south. There's no hand-holding.

"We are pretty much on our own," said Aziz, who thought it unlikely that they would even encounter other teams from the rally. "Luckily we do have friends in every country."

'It's not safe'

While other teams had several months to prepare, Mazen first heard about the rally about three months ago.��Mazen pulled together three of his friends, including Aziz and seniors Javad Golji and Fareed Ahmed, and the group had just two months to obtain visas, plan their route and secure funding for their adventure.

As of early this month, they were still undecided as to the kind of car they would buy, and they also did not have their Turkemenistan visa yet. "Hopefully we will get the visa when we get to the border," Aziz said.

The TechNomads plan to take a route that will lead them through France, Croatia, Turkey, Iran, China and many more countries on their way to Ulaan Bataar. Up until a few weeks ago, the team was not even certain they would all be able to go.

The Mongol Rally web site states explicitly that the trip is not an easy one. "It's not safe. We will be driving through some very remote places in wholly unsuitable cars with no support system. If you want safety guarantees there are plenty of package holidays to the Isle of Wight."

"I was not even sure my parents would let me go," Aziz said.

Though the families did come around, money was also an issue. Fortunately, stepped in, providing the team with $15,000, roughly the amount they budgeted for their trip. A knowledge-sharing web site for medical professionals, took a special interest in the TechNomads when they worked with Mazen on another project. "They have been so genuine in their support," Mazen said.

With enough money to cover their expenses, the TechNomads have focused their efforts on raising money for the two charities they are working with. The first is Send a Cow, an organization that donates high-yield animals to families in need all over the world. They also provide training in animal care, sustainable farming and more. The TechNomads are also donating raised funds to Mercy Corps, a program that provides relief to the poor in many different countries, primarily those affected by war.

"Our goal is to raise at least as much as we spend," Mazen said.

The team expects to take about four weeks to complete the adventure.

"I am confident we will make it to the end," Aziz said.

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