Bikes for the World

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Featured Volunteer: Paul Keefer

"We're gaining momentum, but it's taking more time than I thought," Paul Keefer.

Seriously, keep your eyes on this guy. And don't listen to what he says...he's got a tailwind pushing him with a hurricane force.

Paul Keefer is behind our Bikes for the World South Carolina effort and he's a hard guy to stop or slow. He joined forces with us in the fall of 2015 and they are already gearing up to ship a container from his location possibly next month.

Let's break it down: This first thing Paul did was find Premier Logistics who generously donated warehouse space for our bikes. Then he armed himself with BfW facts and photos and started looking for collection managers to fill it with bikes. 

We helped jump start is effort by connecting him to one of our committed partners in North Carolina, Cape Fear Academy. Teacher, Becky Copenhaver has engaged her students in this project over the last few years and in 2015 she knocked our socks off, putting 121 bikes in Paul's hands.

Paul helped orient the managers running collections, he drove trucks, delivered supplies, loaded and unloaded bikes. Essentially he became the 'Keith Oberg' of the Carolinas. Next came the University of Coastal Carolina. And more bikes.

Then earlier this year in came an email from The Peak Church in NC. They wanted to hold a bike collection. We scratched our heads regarding logistics and kicked it to Paul. He didn't hesitate- YEAH, I GOT THIS!

It was quite a haul from Apex NC to Charleston SC...nearly 300 miles ONE WAY to be exact. But that effort brought in another 100 bikes.

Before we knew it Paul was sitting on half a container of bikes; things were shaping up nicely in the Carolinas. We could see a shipment coming from there early in 2017...and it's about to happen!

Paul and Michael Gregg

Paul switched gears and started doing outreach to grow the Bikes for the World name in the area. He started taking financial donations. He reached out to scouts, schools, and churches...looking for volunteers and collection locations.

The Carolina Youth Development Center stepped up and held the first event, netting a few bikes for the pile. Paul then tabled an event at North Charleston Community Days to help spread awareness for BfW and what we do.

The big break came when BfW put Paul in touch with United Methodist Church youth leaders.  Working with George Howle and Chris Lynch, Paul started brainstorming on how to bring together 12 regions on this collective effort to deliver bikes around the world.

And this Christmas, Union United Methodist Church in Irmo, SC was the first one to deliver. 26 brand new bikes to be exact! They set out with a goal to collect 13 bikes for Bikes for the World and Union UM came together and doubled it!

Paul now estimates about 300 bikes in the Hanahan warehouse. And forced us to address the need to load a shipment early in February (which we were eager to do given the warmer temperatures south)

The United Methodist goal is to collect 1200 bikes total; 100 from each region. Three of the regions are already planning collections with Paul; and he's got one on the calendar for April.

Couple that with the local bike shops he's working with and a recent connection with Tom Lawrence who offered another 300 bikes from his 20 year passion of collecting a repairing bikes and it's all coming together fast. Exactly like we thought. Yeah, he's got this.


Friday, December 23, 2016

Music Makes The World Go Round


“Music is the strongest form of magic,” Marilyn Manson. Bono says it like this, “Music can change the world because it can change people.” No matter your preference in music, band, or quote the message is the same. And no single act says it better than the collaboration between Canadian musicians from the band Unsung and the Orchestra from Regional Lead School of the Arts (RLSAA).


Music Makes The World A Better Place.

On December 21st students from the Philippines took the stage with students from Canada in a tribute concert affectionately named Musikleta. This effort was the brainchild of Christine Adela White, a Filipino-Canadian music director overseeing CW Music

Christine is also an avid cyclist and on a visit to the Philippines she met up with Bikes for the Philippines Director Joel Uichico who invited her to a graduation ceremony where some of our recent bike beneficiaries were being honored. She noticed that not many graduates were crossing the stage. Joel told her many students risked dropping out due to family financial burdens coupled with long commutes to walk to school. 

But Joel had a solution: bikes. And Christine wanted to help. She took all this back with her to Canada and introduced this struggle to her young music students, many of whom are also Filipino. They too wanted to help. So they did what they do best, played tunes.

They started doing benefit concerts to help the students Christine met during her visit to the Philippines. That's when Christine got the idea to do a collaborative concert with the students at RLSAA.


Why not just raise funds at home? Well they did. When the young Canadian musicians learned that the orchestra members they would be playing with didn't have money for fresh strings, they hit the stage. They held a benefit concert at a local restaurant to help buy new strings for their instruments.

"The orchestra has been using the same strings for 10 years. Some kids even used fishing line to practice." So new strings were purchased and delivered to the RSLAA orchestra members. "Their reaction to hearing the new sound of their strings was absolutely priceless."

And Christine wanted her students to see that joy for themselves. "For kids to actually be here (in the Philippines) to witness where their efforts are going, who is benefiting from it? It's gonna open their eyes."

"It feels good when you help somebody especially when you help them to get better education," Max , 12 year old guitarist for Unsung.

"Most importantly I'm looking forward to seeing all the smiles on the kids faces because they deserve these bikes," Aldrin, lead singer of the group.

The main objective of the concert was to raise funds for the bike program, but it became apparent early in the planning that both groups wanted to share this musical gift with everyone, especially students. They implemented a ticket purchasing program which would provide free tickets to school kids with the purchase of bulk ticket sales. 

“In the end, the purpose of raising funds for the foundation played second fiddle to sharing this concert performed by children for children. We had public and high school children watching as well as a group from an orphanage,” Joel Uichico, Director of Bikes for the Philippines.

The money raised during the benefit concert will go to help bike coordinators increase their impact on the program. The geographic challenges of operating a program in a country comprised of smaller islands with limited internet has been a consistent obstacle, but not one insurmountable.

Director Joel Uichico has added bike coordinators in the schools to monitor the bike beneficiaries who are also trained in safety, maintenance, and safe riding skills as part of the program. His goal is to supply phones to the coordinators for better communication and to also provide a travel stipend so they can visit other school programs to learn best operational practices.

Currently Bikes for the Philippines has donated bikes to 18 school districts on all three larger regions of the Philippines. Four schools remain actively involved in the Bikes for Education project. RSLAA, Concepcion Integrated School, Fatima, and Lourdes make up those four school districts and support hundreds of students enrolled in the program struggling to stay in school and graduate.

MABUHAY!

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

How My Bike Ended up Changing Lives in Mindanao

Maria Park graduated from the Friends School of Baltimore last year. For one of her final projects she contacted Bikes for the World to do a bike collection in honor of Earth Month at the school.

Maria and her father used to ride together on a trail near their house before she went away to college. Maria's dad bought a purple Huffy bike from a university student so he could ride with Maria. They donated it to Bikes for the World.

After that April collection, we loaded a container of bikes heading to the Philippines. We told Maria that her old bikes (she donated two) would likely end up helping students there. She was happy to know that her bikes would bring someone the same joy they had her.

Maria shared this memory soon after she donated the bikes: "One of my favorite things to do is ride on a wooded trail with my dad. The trail used to be a railroad line, and it runs by a river, grassy hills, and little towns. One little town called Monkton has a cafe with the best milkshakes. That cafe was the destination of our trips, but the journeys to and from it were almost more important. Quality father-daughter bonding time, the feeling of wind rushing by your ears, the beautiful leafy green that surrounded everything, the nice people we met along the way...I will always treasure the memories of riding these bikes together with my dad."

So we tried to track that purple Huffy to its new owner in the Philippines. And just last month it surfaced in Laak, Compostela Valley in the region of Mindanao, Philippines.

This is Jubanie Marquez, the new owner of that same purple Huffy from Baltimore Maryland. Jubanie lives in Laak and is an eighth grader at Don Vicente Romualdez National High School.

Jubanie is from a large family in a very poor community. Jubanie is at an age when many students are forced to drop out of school to either help out around the house or work outside the home to help with family expenses.

One of the reasons many students drop out of school is long commutes to school on foot. Jubanie was loaned a bicycle through Bikes for the Philippines to help cut down on his commute time.

Jubanie stands here with his new bike in front of his house. He has six siblings and two of them are married with children of their own. They are all living here in this small house, 13 total.

Like many people in this area the family's main source of income is from farming. His parents are harvesting corn this year, but they lease the farm so they can only keep 1/3 of the crop.

Jubanie's dad also picks up work as a chainsaw operator, but the work is temporary and doesn't provide much income regularly. They make just enough to get by day to day.

Jubanie's dream is to become a mechanical engineer someday and he is so glad to have this new bike to help him commute to school. His brother, Julito, and sister, Jeralyn, also received bikes this year through the Bikes for Education project.

95% of the bike beneficiaries at Don Vicente Romualdez come from households that earn less than $25 a month. For many families that is split between 5-10 people living under the same roof.

This house to the left is shared by seven people and it has no water or electricity. A beneficiary named Jericho lives here. Jericho's father used to have a good mill job, but after hurting his back has trouble finding work he can do without pain. Jericho wants to stay in school and hopefully get a good job after he graduates so he can help his father and his entire family.

Jericho lives more than three miles from school. He saves over two hours a day now that he can ride that distance to school.  He is also able to use his bike to help gather firewood and sometimes water for his family.

90% of the households in this area have no drinking water. Many people use corrugated sheets of metal to help collect rainwater because bottled water is just too expensive for many of these poor families. Bike beneficiaries are allowed to use their bikes for school and some home errands, like carrying clean water back to their houses. Bikes help cut costs and travel time which helps families save money for school fees, medications, and food.


With the recent addition of Don Vicente Romualdez NHS to the Bikes for the Philippines Education project, BfP is now the only bike project operating in all three regions of the Philippines.



Monday, December 5, 2016

We Can Do This

"We can do this!" the words of a little girl growing up too fast. Stressed by the hardships of her family, this young student will do anything to help her parents thrive.

"The reason why I haven't stopped going to school, it's so we can have a better life. So I can help my parents. It's been really hard."

Sheila Punzalan has eight brothers and sisters, two of them married and one that is physically challenged. Her family struggles to make ends meet and feels the burden of having a family divided between the classroom and the family business.

Many poorer families in the Philippines rely on the children in the household to help take care of younger siblings, to help with errands around the house, and in some cases to help bring in money from outside jobs.

Attending school often adds an increased burden on these families who need those helping hands at home rather than commuting to school and sitting through class. That can steal up to 12 hours a day and for a family with more than one student enrolled in school that can be quite an impact.

For many of these parents who have never finished school themselves, the time restraints often force them to similar conclusions. As their children struggle with long commutes that affect their attendance, attention in class, and ability to complete their school work, their grades often suffer. Some parents fail to appreciate the importance education can have on their lives and allow their kids to simply drop out.

Sheila's parents work in the fields
Sheila's mom is not one of those parents. "I'm proud of them because even though the distance to school is far, they still walk." But that said, she also expects Sheila to help around the house and care for her younger siblings as much as she can.

Sheila tearfully admits the long walk makes staying in school tough. She is often hot and tired after school and has a hard time concentrating on school work. Sometimes, on the way to school, they study for quizzes or think through projects during the walk. The last thing she wants to do when she gets home is work in the field or take care of her special needs sibling.

Sheila's dad is also a carpenter
Sheila shares all the same responsibilities of her parents. Everyone helps in the family business making and selling tables. Carpentry is a popular form of work in San Simon so competition is tough.

The family also tends to water spinach fields that can be found growing wild all over Pampanga. Unfortunately, because it is an abundant crop there isn't much money to be made. Some of the rice fields in the area are being converted to mango fields, but the fear is if too many of them switch over prices will drop due to over supply.

In addition to helping around the Punzalan household, Sheila is also in high school at Concepcion Integrated School. She knows the importance of staying school; she wants to be the first person in her family to graduate knowing that is the best path to helping her family survive and do well in life.

She is a role model to her younger siblings who look up to her and hope to follow in her footsteps. Only now, since Sheila and her sister and brother recently received bikes through the Bikes for Education program, they are weaving behind following her tire tracks at a much faster pace.

Since Sheila received her bike in August her teacher already sees a difference in her school work. Sheila herself admits, "My grades are improved. I'm rarely absent and I'm much happier."

She also enjoys taking part in community rides on the weekends. The activity improves her productivity both in school and at home. She is enjoying getting out on her bike to see where she lives and is appreciating her surroundings more and more every day.

More importantly, she is still in school and loves learning. She and her siblings have shaved more than an hour off their daily commutes leaving more time for homework and helping out around the house.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Featured Volunteer: YES! We Will Go Out With You

This month we honor Recreational Equipment Inc. (REI) Co-Op for their committed support to Bikes for the World. Our Featured Volunteer recognition has never been focused on just individuals and this month we want to recognize the entire REI Family. Why? Well it's not just their support of our mission, but also their commitment to our community and our environment.

This comes straight from the REI website: "Each year, REI donates millions of dollars to support conservation efforts nationwide and sends dedicated teams of volunteers—members, customers and REI employees—to build trails, clean up beaches, restore local habitats and more.... Through responsible business practices across the company, we strive to reduce our environmental footprint."

Thomas Rigger complete his Eagle Project at REI in 2015
And we recognize that REI is a family. The employees don't just run the registers, they live the life. They are outdoor enthusiasts. They are our experts to gear. They are volunteers. They  love and care for our streams, our mountains, our trails, our neighbors. They make a difference and they change our world.

Several times a year REI Co-Op invites us into their stores and helps us collect thousands of bikes to be donated around the world. Bailey's Crossroads, Woodbridge, Fairfax, College Park, Timonium, Rockville...between these locations BfW has collected nearly 3,000 bicycles over the last 12 years.

Mike, Robin, Mark, Rhonda, Vernon, Angela; these weren't just our contacts at REI during the last decade, they are huge supporters. Countless managers, mechanics, and sales associates promoted our work and encouraged bike donations.

Jeff, a mechanic at REI College Park, was recognized by BfW this fall. Patrick volunteered with us at King Farm and took his skills to the bike shop at REI Rockville. 

Just last month Catherine, an employee at the REI store, dropped off a sewing machine at our collection. She stopped and talked with us about our work and what our beneficiaries needed most. When she found out there was a great need for 24" and 20" tubes, because we rarely receive any donated to us, she went right inside and bought some to be included in our next shipment.

That's exactly the kind of employee that works at REI. Whether it's a stream clean up, bike collection, or just helping you pick the right style hiking shoe for your next adventure, the REI family brings their A Game.

Chris Richards did his Eagle Project at REI in 2005
Nobody knows REI, like a boy scout either. Biking, camping, hiking, maps, cooking gear, tents...quite a few scouts will spend quite a few hours milling about REI, especially in that new flagship store in DC. Many of our Eagle Projects over the years have found a comfortable home on an REI sidewalk.

Nine to be exact. A third of the bikes collected at REI collections have been acquired through Eagle Projects. Lately, Angela from the Outdoors Programs/Outreach Marketing division, has even taken time out of her busy schedule to work directly with the scouts to help them secure the date for their collections. Working with entities outside of just BfW really increases the value of the project for a scout.

The gang from So What Else? loves REI
Over the years REI Rockville has partnered up with BfW to work on outreach to students in Montgomery County. They were a HUGE part of our work out at King Farm. They continue to work with us and So What Else? to help bring rewarding service projects to the community including in support of Montgomery County's annual Community Service Week.

The question shouldn't be WHY are we honoring REI, but WHY did it take us this long to tell you how great they are!? If you have someone on your holiday shopping list who loves the outdoors, do yourself a favor and drop by your closest REI Co-Op. OR come out to Fairfax on December 10th and donate a bike to us before you head inside...we'll be on the sidewalk.


Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Upala Stands Strong Against Otto

When Bikes for the World visited Costa Rica in 2014 we dropped in on two community groups who had recently received bikes donated through BfW. One of those groups was EC Canalete located in Upala.

Like many rural communities in Costa Rica, Canalete is made up of modest homes with many generations living under one roof. Family members often come together to pool resources to help care for aging adults or young children.

 Canalete is a tight knit village tucked away from the bustle of the main drag.  Schools are within walking distance to many of the homes. They have small mom and pop markets, clothing stores; some members even make their own clothing or toys with sewing machines also donated through BfW.

BfW visit to Canalete 2014
It's a quiet little oasis surrounded by small water sources and pineapple fields. Rambutan grows wild and kids pick the fruit to eat and sell along the roadside to tourists and locals alike.

We saw kids riding our bikes in the streets. We met a man who uses a robust tricycle to transport fish and fruit to market to sell. We saw families coming together to help one another using our bikes for work and fun. We met families who struggle to make ends meet and paid great fares to use public transportation. Once they could afford a bicycle they started pocketing that bus fare and using it for food or school books or medications for an elderly parent.

Our partner Grupo FINCA makes this all possible. They work within these community groups to help establish credit and funds to build those small enterprises within their towns and help small struggling communities thrive.

Our bikes not only help residents get around and carry more sellable items to market, but they also help the groups raise capital to support many of those other activities and businesses.

Volunteers from Reed Tech load container for Costa Rica
Since 2005, BfW has donated nearly 25,000 bikes to Grupo FINCA in Costa Rica. FINCA then sees to the delivery of the bikes, sometimes in smaller lots, to many community groups scattered across the entire country. Since they started work in Upala, FINCA has placed more than 1,500 bikes in the community.

In October, working with Reed Tech, BfW loaded and sent a container of bikes heading to this same community group we visited in Upala in 2014. Those bikes arrived early last week, then Hurricane Otto came to town. The port was shut down, with our bikes still unloaded, residents asked to evacuate, and Upala hunkered down for the storm. Upala was one of the hardest hit communities in Otto's path.

Upala November 2016
This weekend Grupo FINCA sent a team out to check on EC Canalete in Upala. Fortunately no FINCA clients were injured or killed. Many, however, did sustain damages to their homes.

After the storm, there were many trees down, electricity out, but most of the damage was from all the rain that fell. Nearly as much rain fell in two hours as the region receives in a month and half. Rivers overflowed and mud swelled into homes destroying much of what was in its way.

One bike beneficiary named Mari has seen in a television interview after the storm passed. She recounted evacuating her home the night of the hurricane, leaving nearly everything behind. A neighbor helped her escape even as the water was rising.

In the morning she went back to find almost everything was a complete loss. The house was filled with water and mud and she even had to contend with three snakes slithering in her kitchen. She saw her bikes sitting in the muck and tried to pull them out along with a few wet clothing items. She said she knew the bikes would be okay because they were good quality bikes.  After the tearful interview Mari and her son got on their bikes and rode away.

Canalete last weekend
FINCA reports that most of their beneficiaries had only minor damages in their homes. At least 150 beneficiaries, however, reported serious damage in either their homes and/or businesses. Efforts to remove the mud and rebuild what was lost started immediately with everyone pitching in to help.

The downtown area looked much the same, where many more businesses are located. There are rivers and streams surrounding the area and when the rains came everything flooded.

The community hall slated to be the bike warehouse for our container of bikes waiting in port was taken over by the Red Cross as an operations center. Upala has shifted gears to rebuild the community and infrastructure that was destroyed in the storm.

FINCA will now place the bikes with a community group in San Carlos instead. They hope to be able to send another shipment of bikes to Upala in 2017 once the town regains solid footing.


Monday, November 28, 2016

Covering a lot of Ground

More students. More bikes. This month marks another turnover of bikes for Bikes for the Philippines.

The latest group of students pedaling their way to class is from Lourdes High School on the island of Bohol, Philippines where the project first began in 2011.

Since that time, Bikes for the Philippines (BfP) has expanded to over a dozen school districts on all three island groups of the Philippines, with even more new schools slated for 2017.

Since BfP joined forces with the Department of Education, the Bikes for Education program really gained momentum. With DepEd behind the effort to bring bikes to students, the all-volunteer team behind BfP could barely keep up.

All donated bikes coming from Bikes for the World are inventoried and repaired by a dedicated team of volunteers in the main warehouse in Manila.  From there bikes are transported to schools up and down the island chain. What originally began on Bohol is now spreading across the nation.

While this is ultimately what the organization hoped for, the expansion brings plenty of challenges...all of which BfP is up for and figuring out. The growing impact is also strengthening the program as well as making better use of the shipments coming from BfW.

With the new school additions, came new terrain, making more of the bikes donated from the US useful to the program. Previously only mountain bikes were being used in some of the more mountainous areas. BfP has also expanded to include all ages of riders.

This past two years, BfP expanded to its first elementary school (Sto. Nino Baloc Elementary School) making use of smaller bikes. The first urban school (Regional Lead School for the Arts in Angono) started using road bikes for beneficiaries.

Moving the program to Luzon brought a lot of attention to the Bikes for Education program. Media coverage and visits to the more accessible schools introduced this successful idea to more supporters and corporate partners.

BfP is now partnered with DepEd to support their popular Pedals and Paddles Program to help students with difficult commutes to school. They have also found support through sponsors such as Metrobank, San Miguel, and Mitsubishi.

But boots on the ground, continues to impede progress. It's tough to keep so many schools rolling with so many miles and bodies of water in between. Like many of our other rural projects, BfP also struggles with the simple task of communication. Internet connectivity among the schools varies greatly throughout the Philippines. Each school budget also varies and possibly affects the quality and amount of equipment necessary to report back to BfP.

Barry is a teacher and bike coordinator
In an effort to combat this issue, BfP now requires each school district participating in the program to identify a bike coordinator who will be reporting back to BfP. The coordinators will be making sure the program is implemented properly, students receive the required training, and the overall success of the program continues to be measured.

As we saw in our African programs focused on volunteer health workers, motivation among volunteers needs to be addressed and efforts rewarded to ensure the success of the model. BfP is now working on incentives to inspire these volunteers.

The proper implementation of the program is very reliant on the reports of these bike coordinators. Bikes are issued to hand selected beneficiaries who struggle financially and live a great distance from school.

Support of the program within the school itself is essential but difficult to monitor from afar. BfP is now looking to ensure continued success of the program by training and supporting these bike coordinators at every school enrolled in the Pedals and Paddles Program.