Bikes for the World

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Mobilizing Health Care

Yaw Teobol uses his bike to carry
clean water back to his family
In rural Africa, a bicycle is the momentum behind economic development.  A bicycle can deliver goods faster over a greater distance saving time and energy. It can be used to haul four times as much produce or other goods to market or the home, making trips more efficient and lucrative.

The lack of affordable transportation has a direct impact on the quality of life for the poor. The inability to leave a small, rural community severely impacts access to greater opportunity. Two thirds of villagers travel by foot, many spending hours a day walking to clean water sources, markets, and health care clinics.

The obstacle of distance compounded by the lack of transportation and poor roads creates an unbalanced healthcare challenge for many poor Africans struggling to escape poverty. Fewer than 50% of Africans have access to modern medical facilities.
A nurse in Ghana learns to ride a bicycle.
Her bike will allow her to see more patients daily.

Establishing qualified clinics within these small villages is a challenge. Working with limited financial resources makes it difficult for community leaders to come up with a workable sustainable program to protect the well being of their families.

Many rural clinics lack the resources to provide quality care on a daily basis. Qualified nurses often cannot afford to work for the wages offered through these programs. Many nurses cite transportation as the leading cause for leaving a job shortly after accepting it.  When the medical professional quits, the clinic is forced to close.

Over 50% of all Africans live more than four miles from a health facility. It can cost a month's wages for a poor person to hire a motorcycle to take them to a clinic. They, then, have no money left to pay for the drugs necessary to treat their illnesses.

Women often sacrifice pre- and post- natal care endangering the lives of themselves and their children. In an effort to reduce child and maternal mortality, many communities stress the importance of obstetric care.

Obstacles such as poor roads, no cars, and cost can be overcome with one simple solution: a bicycle.  In Ghana and Sierra Leone Village Bicycle Project focuses on empowering women and girls with bicycles to also break education barriers.

"When a school girl can have a bicycle this helps her stay in school longer. Studies have found the longer a girl stays in school, the longer she waits to have children. This increases the healthiness of her life and her children's lives. And so, her life is improved and her children's lives are improved," Dave Peckham Director Village Bicycle Project.

Community Health Worker Zondia Helena Nirisoa
Courtesy: Robin Hammond/Panos
In Madagascar, a community based health system was established to address many of the issues identified above. Bikes donated through Bikes for the World to Transaid in Madagascar are helping to fund this program. The bike project is being run in part by the Community Health Workers who refurbish bikes and sell them to local people at a low cost. Many nurses are also using bikes to attend to patients who live further away from the clinic.

Community Health Workers aim to have effective community participation and supportive community institutions to sustain medical professionals and reinforce healthy home behaviors.  They are also working on maternal, newborn and child health by ensuring high quality primary health care services provided by Community Health Workers. The program aims to increase access to clean drinking water and improved sanitation facilities as well as personal hygiene improvements.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Spotlight on Kenya: Kibera and Mathare

Mathare Valley slum
Nairobi is the capital of Kenya and its largest city. It is the hub of activity for much of Kenya and is sadly surrounded by some of the world's largest slums.

To the northeast is Mathare Valley, one of the country's oldest and worst slums. To the southwest is Kibera, the largest urban slum in all of Africa.

Lack of activities and alcoholism create dangers among residents
Over the past decade, conditions in both areas have improved but residents continue to struggle. Unemployment, lack of education, unsanitary living conditions, drugs and violence and health issues plague this community daily.

In Kibera, for example, until recent years, there was very little electric, no source of clean water, and no sanitary facilities located within the community. This is also common in Mathare Valley. In both slum communities the unemployment rate is upwards of 50% with the majority of actual workers earning less than $1 a day.

Many young students are forced to drop out of school because they cannot afford school fees or manage the long commutes to their classrooms. Many are called upon to help care for their families.

Youth as young as 8 years-old often become the head of household when parents die of AIDS. One out of three adults is living with HIV/AIDS and has a life expectancy after contracting the disease of five years.

Water source contaminated with waste and garbage
There are no hospitals or government clinics within the boundaries of the slums. Much of the health care is offered through charitable organizations or churches who struggle to inform the community of safe health care practices. Many residents are afflicted by dysentery, malnutrition, malaria, typhoid, cholera, infections, tetanus, or polio. Many of the health issues are due to the unsanitary conditions rampant throughout the slum.

It is not uncommon to find one public toilet available to 50-100 people. In Mathare Valley this shared toilet facility is not free and therefore many people are still not using it. Much of the human waste, even from the pit toilets, ends up in the Nairobi river, which serves as a main water source for both slums.

Garbage litters the streets and surrounding areas causing many unsanitary living conditions. Garbage collection and clearing storm drains are two of the main jobs within slum boundaries. Many people head to the city of Nairobi looking for work but with no education, long commutes, and little pay, many end up back at the slum unemployed.

 Providing strong sustainable programs remains a priority for many groups working in this area. Others, like Maji Mazuri are focused on educating and taking care of the youth, many orphaned from AIDS.
Over the past decade, infrastructure is slowly coming to both Kibera and Mathare, bringing roads, pipes with clean water, and slowly, more stable homes.

Bikes for the World supports projects in both Kibera and Mathare through Kenyan partner Wheels of Africa. Our bikes supplied by Wheels of Africa and Maji Mazuri are helping to build a better community within these overcrowded slums.

Youth project beneficiaries with Maji Mazuri
Wheels of Africa supplies a local bike shop within the boundary of Kibera with bikes and parts to bring affordable transportation to this community. Read more about Francis Owino and how he is bringing change to Kibera through a successful sustainable business.

Wheels of Africa also donated many bikes to Maji Mazuri, a Nairobi based non-profit focused on serving individuals living in the surrounding slums. Our donated bikes are helping students who participate in Maji Mazuri's youth program in Mathare attend school. The bikes provide affordable transportation to students allowing them to stay in school where they learn valuable life and professional skills that will impact them and help bring about positive change to their families and the community.

Photo Courtesy: Mazi Mazuri

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Featured Volunteer: The Grovers

The Grovers
The idea here was that we would honor Luke Grover as our Featured Volunteer this month. But to quote his family, "this is a family affair", so it's only fair to honor the whole family.

Seen here is Luke in the back, Mom Michele, and Dad Keith. Missing is Andrew who is busy studying pre-med at Duke University. The family lives in New Jersey where they collect and store bikes for Bikes for the World.

Just last month, however, they got to add 'loading'  to their volunteer resume. With our growing effort really taking off in Long Island we are hoping to see more and more of this committed family.

Andrew Grover
This started with older brother Andrew who introduced Bikes for the World to the family.  Andrew 'found' BfW through John Hopkins University, Director Keith Oberg's Alma Mater. Andrew attended a recognition event in New York for John Hopkins Center for Talented Youth, which he was then part of.

There, they showed a JHU produced video about alumnus Keith Oberg and the work he was doing with the non-profit he founded, Bikes for the World. Andrew was immediately interested in the program and contacted us to find out how he could get involved.

Keith O and Keith G started talking and worked out an arrangement where the Grovers would collect and hold bikes in New Jersey until BfW could arrange to pick them up.

Plong and Keith G
Back at our DC headquarters, BfW would connect donors near this Tinton Falls location.  Annually, the Grovers were collecting several dozen bikes, which were sometimes delivered by the Grovers to a collection location at Pennswood Village each fall outside Philadelphia.

One NJ donor, Plong, is originally from Bohol, Philippines and was moved to want to contribute to our newest project in 2012 that was delivering bikes to students in his homeland. We connected Plong with the Grovers and bikes he collected are now with students in Bohol.

Luke worked side by side with is brother Andrew learning how to prep bikes and finding a passion to make a difference around the world.

Luke Grover
When Andrew left for Duke last year, Luke contacted us and told us he was his younger brother and wanted to continue his family's effort. An injury sidelined him last winter but he re-initiated contact with us in the spring ready to keep the wheels turning.

Keith O. worked with the family to connect them with our growing effort just getting off the ground in New York. Area coordinator, Larry Silverman was putting together a network to collect, store, and ship bikes from our first established 'spin off' location. We hoped to divert bikes they collect north to this effort rather than driving them down I-95 to our DC location. This will also help build excitement as we grow this effort in New York.

James, Michele, Luke, Keith, Larry, Keith
This time, the Grovers left the bikes at home and loaded the family into the car to drive to the loading in New York last month. They met with Keith O. and Larry to lend a hand to complete the first ever container loading from this newest BfW location.

It was a long day and complex network of committed volunteers that made it all possible. BfW initiated many of the contacts but look for this group seen here above to continue moving this effort forward. You can read more about the New York loading on our website.

Friday, October 16, 2015

My Favorite Subject Is....

Village Bicycle Project (VBP) knows first hand how important a bicycle can be to a student in Ghana or Sierra Leone. We donate thousands of bicycles annually to Village Bicycle Project both in Ghana and Sierra Leone. In Sierra Leone, VBP operates a Bike Library that loans bikes to students to help them stay in school and graduate. Through their Learn 2 Ride program they are able to teach some students how to ride a bike for the very first time.

A recent report from VBP Director Dave Peckham indicates that some of these students are no longer using the bikes in their Bike Library. We see this as a very good problem to have, since some of the students below have already left the program since graduating high school!

ENGLISH Alusine  walks for an hour to school each morning with his younger brothers and sisters and is always eager for his English class, since he loves to read and write.  He plans to study English when he goes to college and wants to travel around the U.K., U.S., and South Africa before coming back to Sierra Leone to become an English teacher.   

He helps Educaid staff maintain the school grounds and his teachers say he is a big help with some of the younger children.

INTEGRATED SCIENCE Assan lives in a village called Mamalikie, which is about a two and a half hour walk from his school.  He lives with his mother and helps her take care of his five younger siblings. 

His favorite class is Integrated Science and he wants to go to university to study biology.  He loves science because he says he wants to “understand how the world works.”  He will use a VBP library bicycle to reach school every day and help him work on reaching his goals.

ART Fatamata is quick to laugh and loves fashion and art.  She lives with her brothers and sisters at her grandmother’s house, about a two hour walk away from her school. 

While she was participating in VBP’s Learn to Ride program, her older sister passed away from malaria.  Despite being devastated by the loss of her sister, Fatamata decided to only take a few days off from school because she knew her sister wanted her to succeed at school.  Fatamata is planning to go to college.

MATH Fatima is 20 and one of the older students in school. Fatima left school about ten years ago when the war broke out and her parents passed away.  To support herself and her brother, she learned how to be a seamstress from the Red Cross but never gave up on her hope to complete secondary school. 

With support from her aunt and the encouragement of teachers she re-enrolled in 2010 and loves being back in school.  She hopes to become an accountant some day and has especially enjoyed her math class.

PE Hawa lives in Rubeiki and has a 90 minute walk to school.  Physical education has always been her favorite subject in school, which isn’t surprising considering how quickly she picked up riding.

She lives with her mother and helps her on their farm after she gets home from school.  Hawa loves school and hopes to be a nurse some day but often feels afraid walking to school, since she walks alone.  By using one of our library bicycles she’ll be able to get to school faster and feel safer along the way.

BUSINESS Mamasu walks two and a half hours to reach school from her village, Bonline, where she lives with her parents and five siblings.  Mamasu likes her Business Studies class and wants to become a lawyer so she can support her family. 

She had never ridden a bicycle before she began the Learn to Ride program but picked it up quickly.  Mamasu is excited to start riding a bike to school so that she doesn’t have to be afraid of coming across snakes on her way to school anymore.

RELIGIOUS STUDIES Margaret  lives with her father, grandmother, five brothers, and four sisters. Her house is about a three hour walk away from her school.  She loves reading and her favorite class is her Religious Studies class. 

Before starting the Learn to Ride program, she felt nervous about trying to ride a bike on some of the busy streets around Lunsar. After a little practice on the obstacle course she now feels more prepared. 

CHEMISTRY Mariatu loves studying science, Chemistry in particular.  Since both of her parents passed away a few years ago, she lives with her grandmother and is the oldest of 8 children. 

It takes her two hours to walk to school every morning and she can’t wait to use one of VBP’s bikes in the fall.  By ensuring that Mariatu will have faster transportation to school, the VBP bicycle library at her school is doing a small part toward helping her reach her dream of being a doctor someday.   

LANGUAGE ARTS Mariama has been deaf and mute since birth and communicates with her teachers and fellow students using writing and gestures.  Since American Sign Language is not widely used in Sierra Leone, Mariama’s resourcefulness (and patience!) is tested daily as she completes her schoolwork.  

She is extremely determined to succeed in school.  Language Arts is her favorite class and she thinks she might want to be a writer some day. More than anything, she wants to travel, though, so she can see the world.


Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Francis Owino: Fixing Bikes, Creating Jobs

Francis Owino rides his bike six miles to work every day, saving himself an hour by avoiding traffic.  He is the father of 7 children and helps support three nieces and nephews. Francis is making sure all ten kids are in school and getting an education by paying their school fees.

Francis grew up on the western end of Kenya, moved to Nairobi, and eventually started his own business in Kibera. His mother sold fish to support her family and ensure her kids got a good education, something Francis is passing on to the next generation. Francis graduated primary school and went on to polytechnic school where he studied his passion, tailoring.

After graduation, Francis moved to Nairobi to chase his dreams and make a better living. However, he was only able to find a job selling used clothing. Francis focused on making hats but only made about three cents per hat. Undeterred but needing a better job, he ended up moving to Makina, Kibera to help a friend repair bikes.

His friend taught him the complex skills involved in bike mechanics. After about six months, Francis went out to start his own bike shop. He began fixing bikes and selling used tubes and tires, which was about all he could afford to buy at the time. For 20 years Francis struggled to survive, taking out loans to help buy bikes to repair and sell.

This past year, Francis met Wheels of Africa and life took a turn for the better. He is now able to buy more bikes at a cheaper price, turning a bigger profit for his shop. He employs three full time mechanics on a regular basis and up to eight part timers on the weekends when the shop is extremely busy.

"Meeting Wheels of Africa has been a total lifestyle change for me," says Francis. He no longer needs to take loans and has money to rent a stable shop that creates jobs for people in Makina. In addition to the lower prices offered at Wheels of Africa, the bikes are of a higher quality than he can get elsewhere. This draws a crowd, keeping Francis's shop busy, and customers happy.

Many of the bikes sold in Francis's bike shop are used for transportation in Kibera. Kibera is the largest slum in Nairobi and the largest urban slum in Africa. One fifth of Nairobi's population lives within the slum of Kibera. As roads are built in a effort to clean up the slum, bikes are becoming an important transportation tool.

Francis also works to teach kids and beginners how to ride a bike. "Mungu Aibariki (God Bless) Wheels of Africa," beams Francis.

Post contributed in part by Dorcas and Patrick of Wheels of Africa.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Featured Volunteer: Nathan Cross

This guy. This guy is a valuable part of the Bikes for the World team. Meet Nathan Cross, debonair cyclist, committed volunteer, mechanic, and accomplished component recycler. Nathan strips parts off bikes that are shipped to our overseas partner mechanics. Those mechanics are using those valuable parts to put your old bikes back together, fixing them up to become valuable modes of transportation for work, school, and medical purposes.

The bottom line is you donated your bike to us for a reason. Often, that reason is the bike needs a tune up or sometimes major repairs. While our recipient partners would probably love to open a container and have all the bikes inside be in perfect working order, that's just never the case.

And that's not a bad thing. Many of the groups we partner with in Africa and Central America have sustainable programs in place that help employ local workers and empower businesses. Our donated bikes are distributed throughout many communities by our partners and put into the hands of local shop owners who were often trained by the same organizations. Our partners find entrepreneurs in remote villages and offer bike mechanic skills training to help them start thriving businesses.

 Over the past year Bikes for the World has made a huge effort to get more and more spare parts to these small remote bike shops to help those mechanics repair your old bikes and keep them in good working order.

Guys like Nathan help us make that possible. Several times a month he'll ride in on his bike from work to help us attack the mountain of junk bikes we have in the back corner. A 'junk bike' may be a frame that is bent or broken that still has good quality used parts on it. Rather than take that to the recycling center as is, we want to salvage as many workable parts as possible to be included in our containers donated overseas.

Nathan says he has no formal training, just tinkering with his own bikes from the time he was a kid. He's an avid cyclist who was looking to volunteer in Arlington. He wanted to make a difference and he was looking for a hands-on, physical activity and found us. Lucky us!

"I really enjoy the time spent in the warehouse, it feels great to be doing something I love and helping people in other parts of the world. Seeing the photos of shipping containers being opened by excited recipients is especially gratifying," says Nathan. He's proud of the work he is doing and it shows. And we all love to see the results of that work once those rescued components arrive overseas.

Edgardo- El Salvador
On the other side, meet Edgardo. Edgardo is learning to do what Nathan does, in reverse. When our bikes arrive overseas they need to be reassembled and tuned up. Many or our recipient partners either work with local bike shop owners or run programs on site employing mechanics who refurbish your old donated bikes.

For Edgardo this process has more than one component. He is part of CESTA in El Salvador, one of our dozen regular partners. CESTA works with at risk youth to help guide them to better futures and keep them safe from dangerous gangs.

Edgardo uses his bicycle to get to the shop and to school. At the shop he is learning valuable skills like how to tune a bicycle and do minor repairs. He also enjoys participating in the conflict resolution programs CESTA offers in addition to the hands on bike workshop.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Mirriam Odura: An Outspokin' Woman

"My name is Mirriam Odura. I am a mechanic."

Mirriam is 33 years old. She is a mother, daughter, singer, athlete, advocate, role model, mechanic, business owner...simply put, Mirriam is a champion. She is also physically challenged. She is changing attitudes about what being 'dis'-abled means.

"She doesn't seem to be handicapped," says Mirriam's father. She has always wanted to explore, has always been adventurous. He said, "I cannot discourage her from anything." When she puts her mind to something she goes after it.

And that's just what she did in her career. When Bikes Not Bombs began the idea of a cooperative bike shop in Koforidua they reached out to disabled Ghanaians looking for a staff to not only run the shop, but own it. Mirriam approached BNB's David Branigan and said, "I want to be part of this program." And Ability Bikes was born.

Mirriam joined David and a team of aspiring mechanics to learn more about bikes and running a local bike shop. When David asked her to true a wheel she initially bent the rim. It was a complete failure. All the guys laughed at her. But then she tried again and nailed it. She was a natural.

After that, those same male mechanics came to Mirriam and asked her to help them true their rims. She said, "You are sitting there laughing at me. You want me to help you? I won't do that!" But she did. And now when a customer comes in needing a wheel repair or rebuild, the guys all point to Mirriam. She is the best wheel builder in Koforidua. She just happens to be a woman. And 'dis'-abled. Whatever that means. It certainly doesn't stop her.

African men come in the shop with a wheel or a bike looking for a mechanic. The last thing they expect is to find that in a woman. They may be skeptical when meet her, but the bottom line is she can do something they can't do themselves. They all leave with a well tuned bicycle and a different attitude.

Being part of Ability Bikes has given Mirriam a respectable job and an important place in the community. She now has valuable skills that are very needed and respected in her community. She is inspiring to youth and adults. She represents physically challenged Ghanaians as a strong advocate. Even non-physically challenged women look up to her when it comes to learning a skill and being courageous in life. She is proud of her work. She is happy. In this male dominated field, Mirriam is a true champion.

Bikes for the World is shipping our fourth container to this project in October 2015. Mirriam may be fixing your old wobbly wheel in 2016! You can learn more about Mirriam in the video below.