Bikes for the World

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

High Five!

Bikes for the World not only supports cycling in distant, remote communities in Africa and Central America, but we also advocate for safer cycling conditions here in the DC area too. Many of our volunteers, board, and staff are avid cyclists. And we are proud to be participating in Greenfest DC this week!

It's pretty obvious we care about the environment...we are after all the nation's largest bicycle reuse program in the nation. We rescue bikes from garages, back yards, recycling facilities, police impound lots, and apartment bike rooms. We send most of these bikes to regions in the world where bikes are hard to come by and yet necessary transportation options.

Give us ten!
That's why when BfW recently received a donation for $11.65 we paid attention. That might not seem like a lot, but I'll get into that later. If you've ever donated a bike with Bikes for the World you probably know we typically ask for a $10 donation with every bike. This not only helps us meet our mission but also increases the quality of bikes we receive instead of just being a drop off point for rusty junk.

The truth is BfW makes it super easy for you to donate a bicycle by coming into your community and sponsoring hundreds of bike collections throughout the year. It saves you on gas and puts your unused bicycle to good use. But the cost of delivering a bike from donor to new owner that conveniently costs money. We figure each bicycle costs between $20-25 on average to have it safely arrive in the hands of an overseas beneficiary. Most of our donors generously add $10 or more with the donation of a bike.

Think about it...10 bucks isn't much. It used to buy you a tank of gas if you were born before 1980. Nowadays it's only a couple gallons. And if you consider how close we live to work and errands we could save that much by riding our bikes a couple times a week.

Carol, Harrison, Adam, Keith, Mark, and Daniel at Tysons
 And that's exactly what long time volunteer Harrison Schutzer did for his environmental class at Hobart College. His professor, Joel Helfrich, had the class not use a car for one week as an assignment. At first, Schutzer found himself walking to class and errands. Then he was able to borrow a bicycle and went further faster.

"The simple switch to a bike reminded me of my time working for Bikes for the World and how much of an impact a bike can really have on an individual,"  wrote Schutzer.

And his donation of $11.65, a calculation of what he saved by not driving for one week, reminded us how important even a small donation can be. If each one of our facebook followers donated just $5, we'd have enough to ship an entire container of bikes to a partner program overseas.

By the way, that donate button is right over there to the can give us FIVE right now! Just check the Other box, tell us $5, and be sure to put Harrison Sent Us in the designation code so we know he inspired you too. But we'll be happy to take $10, $25, or even $100 :)

Friday, September 14, 2012

Wheels of Africa: BfW heads to Kenya

First BfW container donated to WoA
Wheels of Africa received its first container of bicycles from Bikes for the World in May, a second a few weeks ago and we are loading a third this weekend! This builds on their first shipment in December 2011 from Montana based non-profit Wheels of Change.

Wheels of Africa (WoA) got started in October 2008. Back then it was more of a club for people to get together to ride for pleasure. It has since evolved into a bike advocacy group  and much more. Now it sells and rents bikes, trains mechanics and donates bikes to selected local groups.

You've heard us talk about the Bicycling Empowerment Network (BEN), another BfW partner, here on the blog a lot lately and this is no exception. BEN Namibia mechanics went to Nairobi to train budding WoA mechanics.
New bike beneficiary in Kenya

 While most WoA bikes are sold, many are donated.  Bramwel Simiyu from Arrow Web Hospital for AIDS patients in Nairobi, picked up 12 WoA donated bicycles to be used by health workers who visit patients at home. Another 13 were given to Kijiji cha Upendo, a program in Kibera, a slum area nestled against Nairobi proper. These bikes will be the start of training for some young mechanics and bike sales. Eco Tourism Kenya received 10 bikes for working class staff members to kick start their bike rental enterprise.

Hellen Gelband with Bramwel Simiyu and WoA's Prisca Oluoch
BfW Board Member Hellen Gelband has been over to see the program in person and help get BfW's partnership with WoA rolling. She brought us some of the above findings and hopes to bring home more stories of how your donated bikes are bringing dreams to remote pockets of Africa. We hope to hear more stories from her journeys as our bikes change lives two wheels at a time.

You can read more about Wheels of Africa by simply following our blog or joining us on facebook!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Give 'em What They Want

2009 loading for Costa Rica
Bikes for the World is in position to ship its 70,000th bike before year's end and we are pretty darn proud of that. One of the things that makes us so successful overseas is that we listen to what our partner programs want and try to ship those types of bikes to those countries/programs.

For example, Costa Rica loves beach cruisers but doesn't want 3 speeds. The African countries are more rural and therefore want more mountain bikes than a more urban project like Barbados.

We get feedback from our partners that includes information pertaining to what their beneficiaries want and need, what the country is capable of sustaining, and what the government will actually allow into the country. We try to make our shipments as close to their requests as possible.

Kate Oberg's computer arriving in Costa Rica
In Costa Rica any used rubber product (not already on a bike), such as the spare tubes and tires we typically use to level out the boards between rows of bicycles, is NOT allowed; the government will confiscate this. That presents a problem with a container packed with over 500+ bikes; therefore, we only send NEW tires to Costa Rica.

One thing they do accept though, is computers. And we do, on special occasions, ship random items like this. Back in 2009, someone by the name of Kate OBERG donated a laptop computer to Costa Rica. And apparently if you have special ties to the Executive Director (she's Keith's daughter) you can actually get a picture of it being off loaded! :)

TERRIFIC program allows Rockville youth to earn bikes
Another factor to consider when shipping bikes overseas, is what spare parts or mechanical skills are needed to keep the bikes working. Walmart makes an 'odd' sized wheel that is 18" in diameter and many countries cannot find supplies for this size bike.

Because we support several youth programs right here in our area we often pull these bikes out to keep here in the local area. Many of these are reconditioned by BfW and donated to the City of Rockville for their TERRIFIC program.

BENN supported bike shop
We always ship spare parts along with a shipment of bikes; this is why we always say your bike doesn't have to be in perfect working condition. The bikes we pull from the Shady Grove recycling center are sometimes in bad shape, but still have working parts on them. So the volunteers that come out for our Thursday night volunteer nights will strip those frames for parts that will be shipped overseas.

This way local folks can work on the bikes once they arrive giving them a valuable marketable skill. It also helps make the program sustainable. Many of our partners provide skills training through their programs. This includes not only bike mechanic skills, but also business skills so they can successfully run a bike shop.

Erika Pimentel  Courtesy Patronato Luz del Ciego
On special occasions BfW has partnered with other groups to ship some unique items. Last year courtesy of Peace Corps Friends Panama and Goodwill Panama a few braillers (typewriters for the blind) accompanied a shipment of bikes to Panama.

Most recently we shipped 152 used water meters, surplus equipment donated by the Arlington County (VA) Department of Public Works, that were delivered via our partner Salvadoran Appropriate Technology Center and to a Peace Corps volunteer in El Salvador.

Sra Luz de Madrid
Most commonly, however, we ship portable sewing machines. One of our biggest annual collections at Otterbein United Methodist Church in Hagerstown often yields a lot of sewing machine donations.

Beneficiaries are often taught sewing techniques through the program and the donated machines not only facilitate this instruction but also help the recipients generate income for their families. BfW has donated over 200 sewing machines to Panama, Costa Rica, and Uganda.

Over the years we have also shipped half a container of books to the Gambia, for local schools, in partnership with Books for International Goodwill, a Rotary Club project. Half a container of wheelchairs, crutches, and canes went to Goodwill Panama through Goodwill Virginia. Given the mission of the Goodwill working with and training individuals with disabilities this shipment was much appreciated and needed. Even the ply board we use for stacking the bicycles is reused and valuable overseas.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Stone Ridge Girls ROCK!

The BfW gang from Stone Ridge Social Action
Meet Lisa Adam, Allison Arinaga, Ellie Blakeslee, Allie Delgado, Deborah O'Connell, Andie Segura, and of course Mr. Woodard. These are the young ladies from Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart's Social Action Club.

BfW partnered with Stone Ridge on this project last year. Social Action, according to its blog, "is a comprehensive service-learning program that is central to the Upper School experience.Through preparation, action, and reflection, Social Action cultivates critical consciousness of issues of justice, inculcates a life-long commitment to service, and develops students’ potential for leadership in building and maintaining just partnerships."

All of us at BfW think it's just plain COOL. So a couple times a month this hardworking group comes out to our King Farm storage site and volunteers their time to help bring transportation options to remote corners of the world.  Today was actually their first day; ex-classmates Charlotte and Elizabeth had such a great experience last year we tripled in size this year! And we couldn't be happier.

When I asked them why they chose BfW the answers varied from wanting to be outside to wanting to make that global impact. The students have a variety of organizations to choose from including helping youngsters with school work to volunteering at a nursing home. Each project brings a rewarding experience to the participants.

Stone Ridge loading for Panama
We are very thankful for the help and honored to be part of the program. We have tried to schedule our loadings at King Farm in connection with when the group will be out there to help. This gives them a rewarding experience and gives us the experienced crew to help load.

The first day was no exception. Nick had them working within 20 minutes of meeting them for the first time. The shipment they started today will be finished during Volunteer Night on Thursday and be on its way to Panama by the weekend. Now that's a Cool School!

 To read more about last year's experience you can click on: Impelled to Act!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Night Riders

Carlos with Angela, Jose, and bike owner
We recently told you about one man's quest to bring cycling safety to the rural roads of Nicaragua. Carlos Ovalle approached BfW looking for a way to help poorer cyclists be seen at night in areas such as where we ship bikes. There is little to no bike culture in many of these areas and therefore often no safety measures in place to protect multi-road users that you tend to see in rural villages.

Here in the urban areas of DC there are many organizations such as the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA) who stand up for cyclists' rights and safety. Teaming up with DDOT in the fall WABA hands out blinky lights to cyclists on the street in their annual Got Lights event.

The Firefly Brigade in Manila did a similar event for the beneficiaries of our partner program Bikes for the Philippines. Although lights and reflectors are incredibly important in these remote, often extremely dark places, there is often an issue of power. Batteries can be expensive and hard to come by. Even if these lower income bike owners could afford rechargeable lights they often have no way of regenerating the energy.
Elephant Energy partners with BENN
Meet Elephant Energy. Elephant Energy is a non-profit organization out of Colorado whose mission is to bring affordable, sustainable energy solutions to developing communities. This summer they expanded with the help of our partner program Bicycling Empowerment Network (BEN) in Namibia by offering solar powered bike lights to beneficiaries in this program.

Ovalle brings reflective tape to Nicaragua
Another low cost solution to visibility is reflective tape. Wheel reflectors that often come with new bikes, as you can see in this photograph to the right, are sometimes lost, broken, or stolen by the time our beneficiaries receive and use our donated bikes.

This is why, when Ovalle approached us with his idea to install inexpensive, theft resistant reflective tape on bicycles, we were interested in learning more. How easy would it be to distribute the reflective tape? Would bikers be receptive to the idea? Would it make a difference? Is this an initiative we would be interested in funding?

Ovalle is currently in Nicaragua finding out some of these answers. Here is an excerpt from one of his latest emails:

     "We did a trial run tonight, two bikes at the Instituto Nacional Francisco Luis Espinosa, during night school. Tomorrow we'll go to a tobacco factory where at least 100 bikes await us. The reception was amazing, we had a small crowd around us and when we showed them the pics of the bikes, taken with flash to simulate car lights they were amazed. One thing that I see is that it'll be difficult to provide follow-up as these two had no phone or email and postal addresses in Nicaragua."

Friday, September 7, 2012

Bike Safety

Bikes for the World was founded in January 2005 as a sponsored project under the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA).  Our first bicycles went to Honduras, with shipments following to Sri Lanka (for tsunami recovery) and even Haiti.

BfW has grown over the years averaging about 10,000 bikes shipped per year making us the nation's largest non-profit bicycle reuse program. In April 2011 BfW became an independent 501(c )(3) agency.  Since its founding, it has donated more than 70,000 bicycles internationally and in the Washington DC Metro region; in this year alone, it expects to donate more than 13,000 bikes.
Donated helmets

BfW typically sends bikes to underdeveloped areas. That is to say, road infrastructure is deficient and bike safety is not part of the culture. Helmet use is of great concern to many people involved with BfW and we, therefore, have not only sent numerous helmets overseas but we have also encouraged partner agencies to distribute and support helmet use among beneficiaries.

Bikes for the Philippines requires the use of a helmet
Helmet use, however, is difficult to track. We have no way of knowing if beneficiaries are even using the helmets we ship overseas. Not so in the case of Bikes for the Philippines (BfP) where students are required to use a helmet in order to receive a bicycle.
Through a fundraising initiative, BfP raised money in order to purchase brand new helmets for all their beneficiaries. The local bike club in Manila, The Firefly Brigade, also donated lights to the students.
Peacock Garden resort sent a rescue vehicle for student

I can personally attest to A) the importance of wearing a helmet and B) the need for either lights or reflective gear. When I visited Baclayon (Philippines) in February I had the opportunity to ride with the students to and from school. Every night we returned home in complete darkness. And it is dark!

While on one of these rides I witnessed one of the students crash on the rocky terrain. Although she was pretty shaken up, she was not seriously injured in large part because she was wearing a helmet. She had a pretty good bruise on her shoulder, a cut under her eye, and a ding in her helmet where she broke her fall on a rock.

So when Carlos Ovalle, a BfW supporter and cyclist, approached us about a similar problem in Nicaragua, where his wife Angela is from, we were all ears. What Ovalle wanted to do was raise funds to purchase reflective tape and install the tape on bicycles while in Nicaragua visiting family. BfW agreed to 'sponsor' this project in order to learn more about the effectiveness of relatively inexpensive reflective tape as a means of safety among rural cyclists.
Courtesy BEN

This has also been a concern in Africa and is monitored by the Bicycling Empowerment Network (BEN). They distributed reflective sashes to some beneficiaries.

As Ovalle points out, as roads in Nicaragua become more congested the threat of injury to cyclists rises. Due to the economic status of many of our beneficiaries in all countries we serve, lights, reflective gear, even bike reflectors are often not an option for many riders.

Where bicycle safety is not a priority for a community beneficiaries are very much at risk. In the case of Baclayon, the Local Government Unit did take notice to the increased bike traffic and legal initiatives are being considered.

Unfortunately night riding cannot be avoided especially when the days get shorter. Even here in DC commuters start pulling out their lights in October when it's getting dark before the work day is over. Imagine how dark it would get in a rural village without street lights. Not to mention the pedestrians wearing dark clothing sharing the same streets. 

Stay tuned to our blog for an update on Carlos Ovalle's mission to install reflective tape in Nicaragua. And if you'd like to contribute to this fund or to help provide helmets in the Philippines you can do so through our website or the link on the side of this blog, just indicate "Nicaragua Safety"  or "Philippines" in the Designation Box at the bottom of the donation form.