Bikes for 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.

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