Bikes for the World

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.

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