Bikes for the World

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Spotlight on Alajuela Costa Rica

Continuing with our series on Costa Rica, we visit the province of Alajuela. Alajuela is situated in the north central portion of Costa Rica. Although this province lacks the beautiful coastline that typically draws tourists to the country, it still boasts a visually stunning landscape

Within the boundaries of Alajuela one can find stunning waterfalls, a topiary wonderland in Francisco Alvarado park, a colorful array of flora and fauna, and lush rain forests. Perhaps the biggest attraction is one of  Costa Rica's largest active volcanoes, Arenal, which watches over the province.

Nestled within the rolling countryside of this flourishing area is the heart of Costa Rican rural life. Steep, winding roads steer away from traffic and crowded cities such as San José, immersing one into some of the country's richest farmland. Soil rich from the volcanic ash surrounding the area brings thriving crops of oranges, pineapple, yucca, and sugar cane.

Tourists can buy rambutan from small roadside vendors without leaving the car or by visiting the larger commercial marketplaces in more populated areas. These markets bustle with local farmers and vendors selling their products brought from farther away homes and farms. Fruits, veggies, even fine leather products like belts and saddles are sold in these community markets.

Benigno Melendez
Through our partner FINCA Costa Rica/MiBici, Bikes for the World donates bikes to the small communities that make up Alajuela. Each container shipped often serves multiple communities. Bikes and parts are divided up among the groups and transported back to their members.

These bikes provide much needed, affordable transportation to farmers and merchants who need to travel many miles to reach the bigger markets to sell their home-grown products. Our bikes save them time and money by getting them to market faster and with more product to sell.

The canton of Upala has a busy commercial marketplace where small local farmers can make a decent living selling fresh fruits and vegetables. Bicycles are the most important mode of transportation in the remote villages within Upala. Benigno (above) uses his bike to travel to market four times faster and with the added basket on the back can haul four times as much produce to sell, which benefits his family greatly.

Bikes are also used by many of the children going to school in Upala. Eight-year-old Kevin (right) just received his bike in June. His mom, Yorleny travels to school with him every day. A trip that used to take over a half hour now takes only 10 minutes.

San Carlos
San Carlos stretches from the epicenter of San José to the border of Nicaragua. It is the largest canton in Alajuela. Volcán Arenal is located here and with it comes the rich soil fueled by volcanic ash, making it a fruitful agricultural center. Coffee and tubers, like cassava, are widely produced here.

In addition to helping members complete errands faster and assisting vendors with added carrying capacity, our bikes are helping students commute to school faster and stay in school. In one particular village only 35 members have acquired a college degree. They are expecting the percentage of graduates to decrease in upcoming years due to the high drop out rate in elementary and secondary schools. Many families cite high transportation costs as the reason for pulling kids out of school. Bringing bikes to these villages is increasingly important to help families and communities continue to thrive.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Featured Volunteer: Robert Evans

This month we are honoring the effort of Robert Evans, and checking back over the Featured Volunteers we had to check twice. How could we have overlooked Bob Evans, one of our most dedicated and hard working volunteers ever?

Truth be told, it wasn't neglect; Bob moved away several years ago. When his wife was relocated to Toronto for work of course Bob went with her. But we didn't lose Bob.

So back in 2012, just at a time when BfW was looking to expand, Bob said, what about doing something in Canada, eh? And just last month he assisted a Lions Club who loaded their first container of bikes for our South African partner, Bicycling Empowerment Network.

Rewind to 2010. Bob had just moved to DC and as an avid biker we was well aware of the value of a bike. A neighbor was looking to get rid of a bike and he found Bikes for the World. He went out to a collection in Virginia, starting talking to our volunteers, and he was hooked!

Lucky us. Bob became a regular out at King Farm. Back then Nick Colombo ran our volunteer night and with all the kids in Montgomery County racking up service learning hours for school, he had his hands full. Turns out Bob is great with kids. Lucky us.

Actually, Bob is just a great mentor, period. Whether he is teaching someone how to prep a bike for shipping, how to safely move a bike, or how to load a container he is thorough and thoughtful.

Bob was with us when we received our first trucks from Dick's Sporting Goods. He helped us overcome the obstacles of unloading at Lorton, where we didn't have a formal loading dock. He braved the cold (we didn't know then he'd be a Canadian soon) at King Farm for January loadings. He was also available to help mentor youth at collections that popped up and left us scrambling for help.

The thing that makes Bob so great though, is simply his passion. Bob loves bikes and he loves sharing that with others. He found BfW was the perfect place to do that and he starting hanging with us ever since. Even at a distance he continues to spread our mission.

"I love teaching kids about bikes, I love meeting the folks that donate bikes and reminding them what a great thing they are doing by donating their bike and some cash, I love everyone that helps just because they are people that put their backs into what their heart tells them to do," Bob Evans.

Director Keith Oberg is glad to have Bob still working with us, "Bob is energetic, knowledgeable, diplomatic, personable, and a perfect roving ambassador for BfW internationally as well as domestically."

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Cycle Recycle Canada

Tiverton, Canada. Bikes for the World has been shipping bikes internationally since we began in 2005. July, however, marks a first:  even the loading itself was done outside the US!

Our latest container destined for Bicycling Empowerment Network South Africa (BEN SA) shipped from Canada last week. A group of Lions Club members based in Tiverton, spearheaded this effort collecting donated bikes around the region and pulling together teamwork from half a dozen Lions Clubs.

Cycle Recycle was the brainchild of outgoing Governor Hank VanMoorsel who created the project last year in hopes of shipping a container of bikes to Africa. When he contacted Bikes for the World for advice, we offered up more than that. We gave him Bob.

Bob Evans was a valuable part of Bikes for the World until he relocated to Canada. He was very knowledgeable of our program, where to find bikes, how to pack containers, basically all aspects of our operation. He was a 'go-to' guy whenever we needed a good mentor for volunteers. He would be a perfect fit for this group...and he was nearby!

Clearly Bob is a great mentor, just check the results. He walked this Canadian group through our bike processing procedure that enables us to pack bikes tightly in the container avoiding damage by preventing them from shifting during transport. It also allows us to load more bikes into the truck making the shipment even more valuable to our partners.

The Lions Club packed 497 bikes into this trailer in just under 5 hours. The group opted for a 'live load' meaning they had one day to complete it, at a savings of half the cost. Given their distance inland it made more sense to beat the heat and get it done as quickly as possible.

Nate and Dave in BfW warehouse in VA
Arlington, Virginia, USA. Just as we do in Virginia, this Canadian donated container included bikes, parts, and tires. Equally important as the bikes themselves, spare parts will help mechanics get the donated bikes back in working order once they arrive in South Africa.

In our warehouse in Virginia, our volunteer mechanics strip usable parts off our marginal frames so that we can include them in the nooks and crannies the bikes form in the container once they are packed tight. With these spare parts, mechanics overseas can repair the bikes and keep them rolling for years to come.

Morgan is a mechanic in Cape Town
Masiphumelele, Cape Town, South Africa. The model of BEN South Africa is to train locals in business and mechanics so that they can set up their own remote bike shops that will serve their communities and provide for their families. In their 'spare time' BEN SA works closely with youth to ensure they are familiar with safe riding skills and with adults to encourage more bike use around Cape Town.

"Morgan" Solomon Chikumba is a mechanic that came through the BEN training program. He now owns his own shop called a BEC, Bicycle Empowerment Centre, in Masiphumelele (meaning we will succeed). He will make use of those spare parts to fix donated bikes for his neighbors who use them for work. Morgan, himself, now uses his bike for work and errands, saving a ton of money on taxi service.

When asked what he learned from BEN Morgan replied, "I learn a lot especially communication and understanding to the customers." He goes on to say the relationship between BEN and the BECs is like a family and its existence is an important part of their community.

In the photo above Morgan explains the brakes and gears to a customer, something every bike owner wants: a good mechanic that listens to our concerns and helps us understand how to care for our bikes. Success indeed.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Spotlight on Guanacaste Costa Rica

Guanacaste is a well known and loved area of Costa Rica along the northwest coast of the country. Tourists flock to the beaches along the Pacific coastline to enjoy activities such as surfing, scuba diving, fishing, or just relaxing in the sand.

Guanacaste is one of seven provinces in Costa Rica. It is the province that produces most of food in Costa Rica, including crops of sugar cane, corn, and rice. Cattle farming, which produces most of the meat and milk in the country, supports many families living the Guanacaste region.

Making a living. Despite the success of tourism and agriculture in the area, Guanacaste suffers with the biggest economic inequality of all the provinces. The lack of employment is the leading factor for this disparity.

While the influx of tourism boasts a booming resort industry, many of these big resorts employ few local residents. Agriculture continues to be the leading means of income for most Guanacastecos. These local farmers and small entrepreneurs, however, struggle to find support from the larger resort entities, who often rely on larger producers for supplies.

EC of Santa Cruz
FINCA Costa Rica has created 12 Empresas de Crédito (ECs) in the region of Guanacaste. The ECs work as a team to boost the economic impact in their communities. This empowers the struggling Guanacastecos who rely on sales in small roadside markets to provide for their families.

A persisting problem affecting these small farmers  of late is also the weather. This year the drought is the worst in decades because of the El Niño weather event. The drought has affected most of the crops and cattle farmers. Sources cite a 75% reduction in meat, milk, and honey production in the past two years.

Bikes. Most of the members of these ECs in Guanacaste are small farmers dedicated to agriculture or cattle farming. Many rely on bicycles to get their product to market for sale. Some people use bikes to get to work at the resorts and others have started their own tourism companies.

To date, Bikes for the World has only donated one container of bikes to the Guanacaste province. Our partnership with FINCA Costa Rica works with these area micro-finance groups to make this possible. Although there is a great demand for bicycles in this area due to the flat topography and need of workers, the distance from port makes it a costly endeavor to transport bikes across the country once they are unloaded from the ship.

Don Frederico Camacho. This trike Don Frederico picked out last December allows him to travel from his home to market to run errands for the family. He also uses it to transport bread his wife makes at home that he sells at the market.

At 58, Don Frederico had never ridden a bicycle. He picked out this tricycle to help shorten his 4 mile commute to market and make it easier to transport goods. For safety, Don Frederico also purchased a helmet and put lights and a horn on his trike.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Featured Volunteer: Ben Slade

Nobody quite remembers what brought Ben Slade to Bikes for the World but he's been around since the very beginning. In fact, without Ben, you might not be reading this now.

Ben is our volunteer, resident computer guru. That means he handles all our technical code-laden questions that only he can decipher. When we needed to talk to YOU, our valuable supporter, he made that happen. From the moment our website went live to every panicked email or phone call since, Ben has kept us connected and floating in cyberspace since we first entered the world wide web.

Director Keith Oberg knew the key to finding and rescuing bikes from garages and sheds was communication. If you've ever passed by our table at an event and Keith was there you probably heard him bellowing, "have a bike sitting in your garage you don't use?!?"

But even his voice carries only so far. And as the internet was growing Keith saw the importance of representing BfW online. But he really had no clue how to reach donors, supporter, and volunteers through the computer outside his personal email.

Thumbing through old collection contact information, many of our collection managers didn't even have email yet. Keith spent a lot of time on the phone and amassed folders and folders of paper.

But that didn't stop Ben from putting in place a computer based system that drives our organization now. Ben set up our original website after Keith purchased the url we use today. Ben also identified the need for a CRM system to communicate with our supporters and collect donations online.

Today we share information, video, pictures...all through the tools Ben set up. Our website helps donors find a place to donate an old bike. Organizations in DC, Africa, and the Philippines all use Google when looking for a solution to an expensive transportation problem in their rural villages--and find us. Scouts are introduced to BfW when looking for potential Eagle projects. To celebrate a holiday or birthday of a cyclist, one might google 'bike non-profits' to make a donation in their honor.

Our newsletter reaches over 3,000 supporters every month. Our contact list is nearing 10,000. We communicate our successes and beneficiary stories through our newsletters, which Ben helped set up. He held Keith's hand through that initial process and helped orient him through edit panes while teaching him the importance of the SAVE button, although he often forgot to use it as much as he should.

Ben was an important part of the process in creating our current website design and function. He maintains our email accessibility and updates Joomla! regularly. When Ben teamed up with Keith he was a bachelor with time on his hands. Now he is married with three young ones running around. He is still answering our questions and putting out cyber fires for us. He may not answer our less pressing issues until after midnight, but come morning it will probably be fixed.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Spotlight on Talamanca Costa Rica

This is Talamanca, an Indian reservation located in the South Caribbean of Costa Rica. During the last few years, Bikes for the World and FINCA Costa Rica have sent three containers of bikes to Talamanca.

Some communities in this remote area can only be accessed by the Telire River. Bikes must be offloaded and reloaded onto small 'pangas' to transport the bikes to the communities where they will help transform lives.

Talamanca is one of six cantons, or counties, located in the province of Limón. It is one of the poorest cantons of Costa Rica; the human development index ranks among the lowest in the country.

Talamanca is home to two of the eight indigenous tribes left in Costa Rica. The Bribri and Cabecar speak their own languages and are mostly isolated from the rest of Costa Rica. Because of the language barriers of these indigenous people, they are often less educated and lack proper health care.

Coroma is one of the most remote villages, located in the mountainous area of Talamanca. Coroma is near Puerto Viejo, a popular tourist beach on the east coast of Costa Rica. Unless the Telire River is extremely low, the only way to access Coroma is by boat.

It is in Coroma where you will find the Bribri, living a modest life, many without clean, running water and some without electricity. A missionary group recently built a school in this area, bringing education two hours closer than ever before.

The Bribri are mostly farmers, providing for their families through fruitful banana and plantain crops. Most of what the community needs, food, herbal medicines, and building materials, is grown right in their village. They supplement those supplies with others purchased from the sale of their crops.

Supplies coming in and out of Coroma  must make this trek to and from the Telire River. Our bikes make this journey faster and help farmers transport more bananas and plantains to the boats for sale to larger communities.

Bikes for the World added FINCA Costa Rica as a partner in our first year. This micro-finance project has become known as MiBici and operates much like a monetary loan that is paid back and reinvested in the community.

Bikes that are donated from neighborhoods around the DC area are shipped to coastal communities in Costa Rica where bikes are divvied up among many community groups and then transported all around the country. Our bikes (over 20,000 over the past 10 years) are now spread out around many rural villages along the beaches and mountains of Costa Rica.

 You can read more about the families affected in Coroma in the 2011 article written for the Washington Post.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Featured Volunteer: Ann Jackson

Ann Jackson has been rallying the troops for Bikes for the World for the past decade in Severna Park. Turning the side parking lot at Pedal Pushers bike shop into a temporary-one-day BfW satellite operation, Ann's crew collects bikes and catches users of the nearby B&A trail to tell them about what we do.

Over the years this collection point has collected about 700 bikes to be recycles and reused to change lives around the globe. "You can really make a difference to someone's life. Not only do you provide bicycles for transportation, you teach people how to fix bicycles. A lot of people (here) have bicycles they don't use and this keeps them out of a landfill. I think it's a good thing to do," Ann Jackson.

The official collection 'sponsor' is Ann Jackson AND Friends. And we really can't recognize Ann without mentioning the 'Friends'. Ann pulls together a collection of relatives to help wrench this event. Sister Ellen Berty runs the outreach table and no one walks by without being asked, "do you have a bicycle to donate?" Her husband Pete and brother Tom not only prep the bikes but they also mentor young volunteers Ann recruits from area schools and clubs. This collection is a popular service project that brings together students, family, friends, and area businesses.

The biggest supporter is the host shop, Pedal Pushers. Owner Rod Reddish has been partnered up with BfW and collects bikes all year, some help jump start Ann's collection. When asked if the collection boosts sales, Reddish replied, "It's not about making money, it's about getting people a ride."

Neighboring coffee shop, The Big Bean, also steps up to help support this effort. "Deb Hoffman is a wonderful supporter by providing free coffee coupons and helping with advertising. Her coffee shop is a real community center," reports Ann Jackson.

Bottom line, we are recognizing Ann for pulling this event together, but it's really the community that makes it roll. From the store fronts promoting the event to the family members mentoring young volunteers this collection defines to a T exactly what BfW sets out to do. In an effort to keep unused bikes out of our waste stream and divert them into hands that can transform them into affordable needed transportation, BfW brings together the community in a single collective effort to affect lives around the world.

And it's managers like Ann that make this a success. "You are all warm and supportive and the whole operation runs very smoothly from start to finish," says Ann. Hosting a bike collection is something YOU can do and BfW can help.