Bikes for the World

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Bikes for Sierra Leone

Bikes for the World partner Village Bicycle Project (VBP) operates bike programs in both Ghana and Sierra Leone in Africa. We started shipping bikes to VBP-Ghana in 2005 and added Sierra Leone in 2012. Between both projects we have donated nearly 20,000 bikes since 2005.

Our first container load of 2017 went to Sierra Leone and was received and distributed earlier this spring. Just like the bike workshops we told you about in Ghana, bikes distributed in Sierra Leone followed the same structure. Participants are often selected by community leaders and take part in a one day workshop where they learn how to properly clean and maintain their bikes. They are also taught riding skills and safety in this workshop.

The first of our bikes were taken to Makambo Village and distributed to workshop participants. Over 25% of the bikes went to women and school girls.

On to Konta Wallah. This village is an island in the northwest corner of the country with a population of 700 people and is largely focused on rice farming.

Here 20 farmers and 5 students joined VBP and learned essential bike care in the program. At the end all were awarded a bike through the program. The residents of the town are still dependent on motor boat transportation to and from the island but the new bicycles will better allow them to travel around the island and access their farms.

Finally Binkolo, where VBP continues to work with St. John's Secondary School to ensure every student who needs a bike for transportation to school gets one. VBP worked first to get bikes for the students farthest from school.

Community organizer Justin explained, "Education is one of the challenging issues in this community. We only have one secondary school. Some students have to walk nine miles, that's 18 miles round trip- five hours of walking every day. A lot of students drop out of school."

VBP ED Joshua Poppel and Magdelene
Magdalene is a student at St. John's and she received her bike this year. "I was struggling coming from my village. I was coming late (to school) but when I have this bicycle, I would say I am the first one to be here. I am very happy and proud."

VBP has been back to St. John's several times already this year. In June VBP reported this, "a new shipment is now on its way to deliver hundreds of bicycles to Binkolo Village, Sierra Leone. When they arrive, our staff will help distribute the bikes to students and adults, some will be used in our mechanic training and others in our learn-to-ride programs."


Friday, July 7, 2017

Bikes for Ghana

This week we loaded our second container this year bound for Village Bicycle Project (VBP) in Africa. Our first was distributed to Sierra Leone and this one will head to Ghana.

Earlier this spring BfW bikes donated last year to Ghana were loaded onto smaller trucks and transported to rural areas of the country. The bikes were introduced to their new owners through VBP's Preventative Maintenance Workshop.

When container shipments of bikes come into Ghana they are offloaded and stored at VBP's main warehouse in Accra. They are then loaded onto smaller trucks and transported many hours to remote villages all around Ghana.

This particular shipment included 80 bikes donated by BfW. The bikes were transported to two different communities, one in Lawra and the other Kalsagri.

After a two day journey, the bikes arrived on site where three staff members and six trainers were ready to teach the workshop to eager villagers ranging in age from 13 to over 60. Each participant was chosen by community leaders. and represented workers, farmers, and students.

The mechanics would take a day to ready the bikes for the class. Participants in the workshop would be learning basic maintenance and care, like how to keep the chain free of grit and how to repair a flat tire.

Simon is a local mechanic
If someone signed up and didn't already know how to ride a bike, VBP staff members would also teach bike handling skills in this class. Since many guys already know how to ride, VBP started offering women specific classes, where they have a more relaxed setting to work with those novice riders.

One last detail of the class needed to be worked out before beginning. For each workshop offered throughout Ghana, VBP identifies and recruits local mechanics to assist at the workshop. This helps establish a relationship between the new bike owner and their local mechanic who will help them going forward with spare parts and more complicated repairs.

This spring, they brought on two local mechanics to help with training.  For their support VBP rewards each mechanic with a specialized tool set. Participants in the class would be going home with a bike. Each participant pays less than $25 for the workshop and bike.

From VBP: "This donation was very helpful to meet the critical needs of some people in Ghana's rural north. It was especially important for school children who have had to walk over eight miles to and from school every day."

They also report that the task of monitoring and evaluating the beneficiaries is a priority for VBP staff. They will continue to check in on, especially the students, to see how the bikes are affecting their studies.

The breakdown of BfW specific beneficiaries in these two villages are as follows:
     42 students
     15 small scale entrepreneurs
     22 farmers
       1 teacher



Thursday, July 6, 2017

Catch-22, Meet Force of Nature

Mary Wiiyor is a young mother who took part in a Village Bicycle Project (VBP) Preventative Maintenance Workshop several years ago in the upper west region of Ghana.

Back then Bikes for the World Ghanaian parnter VBP noticed an important distinction...women really needed bikes, but many didn't have them. Some had never learned to ride a bike. Others kept having their bikes stolen from their male relatives or even other boys in the village.  It was a gender biased Catch-22.

So VBP devised a plan to empower these women one spoke at a time.  First they would teach them to ride a bike. Through their already established workshops, VBP staff and trainers could reach rural women and get them up and rolling on two wheels. Once a girl knew how to ride a bike her whole world opened up to change.

With her new riding skills a young woman could borrow her brother or father's bike and run errands more efficiently, maybe to go get firewood in the evening. Or to carry heavy loads of water.

All of a sudden these chores became, dare we say, fun. It definitely saved time and enabled her to carry more wood. It also allowed her to skip the dangerous practice of head loading, where women carry extremely heavy loads on their heads, sometimes injuring their necks and backs.

Meanwhile, VBP continued training men and supplying them with bicycles. And eventually the guys stopped stealing the women's bikes. Maybe they all had their own bikes. Or maybe they saw the benefit women brought to the family once they had bikes.

Regardless, VBP started offering bikes to men and women at all their clinics. And what they found was increased productivity in the village. Kids were going to and staying in school. Farmers increased crops. Budding mechanics found work.  And bikes just kept rolling year after year.

What they also learned is the girls really loved the work. They were good with their hands and were proud to own a bike. They learned how to properly clean and maintain their bikes. They could change a tire. Tweak their brakes. Some even learned more intricate skills to repair bikes.

Eventually, VBP started to offer women's only classes. Here the trainers could focus more directly on what the women really needed to improve. Without the, sometimes domineering, men around,  women were in a more relaxed space where they felt more comfortable asking questions and moving at their skill level and pace.

At the end of the class, the women received: a wire brush, screwdriver, tire levers, lube, a tube, and a pump. Oh, and a bicycle and the skills to ride it!

Today, Selina Abuakwa is not only the proud owner of her very own bicycle, but she knows how to ride and maintain it. Since receiving her bicycle from VBP in April of 2016 she is now financially independent.

Selina uses her bicycle to get to work and also for work. Her farm is about four miles from her house and it used to take her two hours a day to walk.

She now does that commute in under 30 minutes and uses the time she saves to grow more cassava! She also uses the rack on the back to carry the cultivated cassava directly to her customers.

With the saved time and extra income not only is Selina's life improved but so are the lives of her three children.

To borrow the phrase from REI Co-Op, Selina Abuakwa is a true Force of Nature.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Featured Volunteer: Larry Silverman

Who is Larry Silverman? "I've been around the BfW warehouse for years and I've never seen this guy."

Perhaps. Larry Silverman IS BfWNY. New York City!?! Not quite, but you get the idea. So you may not have seen him around Arlington or Rockville, but this guy is swimming in donated bikes.

And truth be told, you may have seen him once down in Arlington when he came during an inauguration service event several terms ago.... Since that visit our work sort of stuck with him.

Then back in the winter of 2014 he contacted us and said, how can I get more involved. BTW, I'm in Long Island. So we thought we'd offer him a challenge to be an area coordinator. And he said, I'll see your challenge and raise you a warehouse. That's right, Larry tackled the biggest hurdle right off the bat, he found space to hold bikes, hundreds of them.

Next we connected him to a scout hoping to work with us on an Eagle Project and the bikes started pouring in. There were several more collections, a New York based youth group, Recycle-A-Bicycle, Citi Bike New York...we seemed to be getting bikes from every direction and boxes and boxes of parts.

Director Keith Oberg left the office one day and went for a long drive to think about what to do with all those bikes in New York. Or maybe he had already scheduled a loading from that location and drove up there to mentor Larry in how to load a container. Yeah, maybe that was it.

Regardless, here this new volunteer area coordinator found himself swamped with bikes and loading his first container to be donated to Village Bicycle Project Sierra Leone. And we found ourselves with a first time loading from New York, how exciting!

This past spring after almost a year hiatus, we got the call again. Kenny Marx was up to good again; he wanted to collect bikes at PortFest as he had in previous years. We called Larry, who said sure, I'll drive a truck, lend a hand, and add these bikes to the warehouse!

Little did he know Kenny would more than double the number of bikes he typically gets at this collection. And it would be cold. And rainy. All day. What sounded like a simple pick up the truck, grab the bikes, and deliver them to the warehouse kind of day turned into an epic adventure.

Larry picked up the rental truck and 7am that morning, made several stops throughout the day grabbing bikes around Long Island, then had to lend a hand at PortFest where they were swamped (pun definitely intended) with bikes. Then there was the long drive back to the warehouse, unloading for two hours, return the truck...he collapsed at home after 1:30 the next morning!

Larry reports that the rain started at 4am and never let up the entire day. By the end of the event he was soaked and shivering. If this isn't the mark of a dedicated volunteer then we don't know what is! 

Friday, June 2, 2017

Art Matters













For any young person today, simple every day life in school can be emotionally draining. There are pressures from family to do well in school and get good grades. There are pressures from peers to fit in. There are pressures from strangers who may bully or demean students in a trend that seems to be growing daily. Finding the space to focus on learning can feel like an unattainable chore.

Rodney Grant helped establish PCW
For young residents in the community known locally in Barbados as 'The Pines', life, itself, can be a challenge.  Add to the above, living in poverty, not getting enough to eat, watching mom and dad struggle to find good jobs and you might find a student who has given up before they've even tried.

Pinelands Creative Workshop (PCW) is a community organization working to overcome these challenges and improve the lives of students in their neighborhood.  PCW was created to ease that burden decades ago and continues to thrive today after constantly growing and reinventing themselves to keep up with the changing stresses and challenges on the students within their community.

The overall goal of PCW is to provide compensatory education to vulnerable persons in communities across Barbados as a viable pathway out of poverty. Only a community organization can use an initiative like BfW to do so much with so little.

Through the sales of our donated bikes, PCW is able to run a full service bike shop, employ mechanics, and raise funds to help support projects within their program which focus on using art education to improve lives. While Pinelands Creative Workshop may seem like nothing more than a cool place to hang out with friends after school, what this organization provides to its young participants goes much deeper than that. And goes far beyond a bike simply providing transportation.

On the surface, PCW seems to be offering dance classes, music lessons, and theatre opportunities in addition to their academic mentoring and supplemental education. And that's exactly it.

To 8 year old Danisha, all she knows is she likes dancing at PCW after school and hanging out with her friends. But deep down even she knows it's more than that. Through dance, she told Outreach Coordinator Yvette Hess, "I learned how to be myself." At eight.

What we see PCW providing is a working classroom: Expression. Collaboration. Focus. Confidence. Accountability. Responsibility. Those same art based after school extra curricular activities that Danisha loves so much are critical to childhood development and will continue to serve her, and her community, well throughout life.

PCW has reshaped elements our our mission at Bikes for the World, to enhance lives through better transport, and expanded it to better fit the needs of their community by offering a less tangible but equally important development platform for youth. And we are thrilled to see them adapt our program to serve their community...that's really what we are about, improving lives. 

Doing that through the arts is genius, especially in a tourist-centric nation that relies on the performing arts as a way of life. The arts also strengthen problem solving and critical thinking. Students learn to make choices and understand the value of their participation in the overall productions. They learn about sharing responsibility and how perseverance can pay off. They take pride in the end result after putting in the hard work it took to get there. They are developing a routine for success.

Art encourages young people to express their thoughts and ideas in a variety of ways. It opens lines of communications and brings topics that are relevant to them to the forefront. It encourages strangers to open up and learn from someone who is exactly like them or a polar opposite.

Art introduces the idea of peaceful resolution to the classroom, dance hall, stage, or recital room. Most of all art brings inclusion into a closed circle. It opens, embraces, and beats like a drum or a heart. Art lays the foundation for understanding, acceptance, and compassion. Just like the bike, art brings people together and transports them to a better place. 



Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Featured Volunteer: Larry Orwig

Larry Orwig is a Glenwood Lions member and extremely active in international service projects, including the BfW annual bike drive in Glenwood Maryland.

Larry is a huge cog in this finely tuned machine. And he's a key reason the Club celebrated reaching the 1,000 bikes collected mark this past spring.

"How many bikes  can one community give year-after-year. I keep thinking there must be a point when there are no more not-used bikes," ponders Mary Powers. Mary is the Glenwood Lions/Leos advisor that works closely with the Lions men and the students at Glenwood Middle School on this bike annual bike project.

Mary took over the role as advisor on this project a few years ago and both Larry and Harrison Morson (also from the Glenwood Lions Club) helped make that transition seamless.

While collecting bikes for reuse overseas is an important part of our program we cannot overlook the impact this project has on our environment and of course the students who participate year after year. Larry knows first hand how life changing a bike can be to a family in a poor, rural African community. And he also knows students here benefit greatly by being involved in the project.

Two years ago Jeff Dannis, Operations Division Chief, Bureau of Environmental Services, Department of Public Works, approached Bikes for the World about partnering up with the Alpha Ridge Waste Transfer Station in Howard County. This is an effort Director Keith Oberg really wanted to make work, but the distance from our warehouse in Arlington VA and the demands of the schedule were too much for the tiny staff at BfW to handle.

But the Glenwood Lions Club had eager volunteers, trucks, and even secured storage at the school for bikes...making this idea of collecting bikes at Alpha Ridge a real possibility. Without any introductions or support, the Glenwood Lions Club and the staff at Alpha Ridge entered into a pilot program to collect bikes at the transfer station on behalf of Bikes for the World.

Let's not underestimate the Leos either.  If you can't find Larry buried in a trailer full of bikes (see above), you'll likely find him smack dab in the middle of a group of budding bike mechanics at the school (see right).

And in 2015, the Glenwood bike collection netted 180 bikes, quite an impressive turn out. But after joining forces with Alpha Ridge, the 2016 collection topped 245 bikes.

This became an issue when the school's storage area overflowed. BfW had to make a special trip up last fall to help alleviate space, but Larry wanted to make sure the kids were still involved in the program. So we set up a special bike prepping session in the fall with the Leos club.

Representatives from BfW, Yvette Hess and Jim Mitchell met at the school to mentor the kids and load up bikes to take back to our warehouse in Virginia. Larry was a key force during that session helping to mentor the kids and teach them a little about bike mechanics and tool leverage, just as he does during the annual collection in May.

This year, 2017, the Glenwood collection surpassed our 1k bike marker with flying colors. Thanks to partnership with Alpha Ridge, this year's collection brought in 319 bikes, a school record.

Many Lion members participate in this event in May working side by side with the kids. But their commitment doesn't start and end there. They also supply a crew to work the waste transfer station several times a month. They accept bikes, monitor the quality, and transport them to the storage area at the school.

Without Larry's help at Alpha Ridge none of this would be possible.


Wednesday, May 17, 2017

A Lion's Pride

Welcome to the 1k Club. This year Bikes for the World welcomes a new thousand bike partner... Glenwood Lions Club.

BfW now has 10 community partners whose collections have added more than 1,000 bikes to our program over the last 13 years. In fact between them, they have collected and donated over 18,000 bikes around the world. That's a lot of bikes and even more lives improved.

While our official partner is the Glenwood Lions Club, this project is quite popular among the Leos at Glenwood Middle School. What's a Leo? Lions Clubs sponsor their younger counterparts in an effort to instill great qualities in the youth of their community. Leadership, Experience, Opportunity defines what being a LEO is all about.

Throughout the year the Leos take part in several Lions led projects. Donating books is big. Glenwood Leos participated in bringing books to schools, seniors, and the community. But the bike collection is one of the most popular. Getting to use the tools and a little elbow grease (or getting grease on their elbows, as the case may be) is fun for kids of every age.

This is a project that really helps pair up the Lions and Leos and gets them working together toward a common goal. Lions Larry Orwig and Harrison Morson have been fixtures at this event held every May.

Larry works throughout the year collecting bikes in his truck and ferrying them over to the school for the kids to use their new mechanic skills. Both Harrison and Larry work with the kids mentoring them and showing them all the tricks to break a rusty bolt free.

Bikes for the World even made a special trip up there in the fall of 2015 to work with the Leos outside their spring event. They had collected so many bikes we had to make an early pick up. And we wanted to give the students a chance to work on the bikes.

"I think this is a great partnership between us, the Lions and the Leos. I really saw the girls in particular empowered when we handed them a pedal wrench and showed them how to use it. Getting all young people familiar with tools and using them is one of the aspects of my job I enjoy the most. If this work encourages them to learn more about bikes and makes them confident enough to tackle a flat tire on the road that's super!" says Outreach Coordinator Yvette Hess who has worked directly with Glenwood since 2012.

And at Glenwood, they just keep upping their effort.
Way back in 2012 the crew donated about 50 bikes.
The following year they doubled that number. In 2015 they almost doubled it again, turning in 180 bikes. From then on they have been on a roll. In 2016 the Lions Club joined up with Alpha Ridge waste transfer station and that spring hit an all time high contributing 245 bikes. Many of those bikes last year were donated to our partner in Barbados Pinelands Creative Workshop.

This year their bikes will be split between Kenya and Barbados and were loaded the following week after their May 6th collection. During that collecting the bikes kept rolling in. Through the recycling effort, random pick ups, and drop offs at the school, Glenwood filled our truck with 319 bikes (in fact we made two pick ups there throughout the year!).

So yeah, we honored their cruise into our 1k realm. They actually crushed it. They are now moving on trying to catch our 3k leaders.

While their numbers continue to be impressive, it's really the impact they are having on our partners around the world, on the earth through recycling efforts, and in their communities and even families that really stand out.

A story that came out of the 2012 collection at Glenwood stays with us even today. Here Megan and Brandon Witt donated a brand new bicycle they bought with money they saved themselves. It was a lesson mom Robin, wanted to teach her kids about the importance of giving back. It's a lesson we continue to share today.

That blue BMX bike was loaded the same day and traveled all the way to Africa to a put a smile on a little boy's face in Ghana.