Bikes for the World

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Scouts Are Prepared

Troop 495 wrenched the Kent Island collection
April 21st was a big day for Bikes for the World. In just two collections we pulled in over 200 bikes! We often get the question of 'how many bikes do you expect at a collection?' While we'd love to see over 50 bikes every time, some of our collections only yield 30 or so bikes. 100 is a great collection.

The secret is: it's not hard to do. Both of these collections were managed by brand new collection managers who did everything right. They read the collection guide, followed the suggestions, and the bikes came in.

The Kent Island collection was managed by BfW supporters George and Mary Medicus. They came to BfW to buy a trailer for their bike and fell in love with the organization. They wanted to do more to help...and boy did they!

They got the word out using the media, posters, and flyers and the donations came rolling in. We weren't sure what to expect, but by the time we arrived shortly after the collection started they already had about 45 bikes.

Mary and George approached a local boyscout troop to ask them to help out with the collection. The boys did most of the wrenching to compact bikes for shipping. Troop 495 helped unload bikes, diligently wrote receipts, and stayed to load bikes onto our truck. They were courteous, professional, and committed to the tasks.
Michael Dillard collects over 100 bikes

85 miles away in Ashburn Virginia, Michael Dillard, a faithful BfW volunteer and high school sophomore was also knee deep in donations. He teamed up with BfW partner Spokes Etc. to have his first collection in their parking lot.

Michael is your typical teen aged guy...he likes soccer, video games, and I'm going out on a limb here to say, he's not overly comfortable talking with reporters (who of us is?) But that's exactly what he did. He tells us the advertising was the hardest part of the collection. He sent out emails and did several newspaper interviews.
Girl scouts volunteer to wrench
We weren't prepared for the turn out he got, but he was! He knew how a collection was run because he had volunteered for us before. He asked his mom's girl scout troop to come volunteer, showed them how to process bikes, and before you knew it Nick was hauling away a couple truckloads of bikes in his pick up. 

"Overall it was a very rewarding and fun experience.  I hope the 108 bikes go a long way in helping people in need.  Everyone at Bikes for the World was really nice and helpful.  Nick was funny when he came to the collection and he even showed us a few "tricks" like how to turn the handle bars without unscrewing anything." Michael Dillard
Senthil Kannan of troop 1983 earns Eagle rank

Bikes for the World is proud of the change we bring overseas by providing affordable transportation to individuals in rural areas. Our bikes are increasing productivity, keeping kids in school, and bringing health care to remote villages.

We are equally proud of our impact here at home as well. In addition to providing a valuable 'green' solution to recycling we are also bringing rewarding community services projects to schools, faith groups, scouts, and many other organizations.

Over the years we have partnered with many Eagle scout candidates on their Eagle projects. Senthil Kannan, who worked with us last year bringing bikes into REI Fairfax, was just awarded Eagle rank this past weekend. He still wonders where all those bikes ended up and how many lives he has affected through this effort.

For more information on past Eagle projects: Eagle Scout Leaders

Monday, April 22, 2013

A Twist: Bringing Bikes BACK From Africa

In honor of Earth Day, a post about why I love my bike! In an odd twist, this bike was actually imported from Africa, instead of the other way around.

Bikes for the World collects and ships over 10,000 bikes annually in and around the DC area. Many of these bikes end up in Central America and Africa. In fact, last year alone, BfW shipped over 13,500 bikes to about a dozen countries, including the Philippines.

Bikes for the World operates to make quality used bicycles and parts affordable and available to lower income people and select institutions in developing countries to enhance their lives and livelihoods through better transport. BfW also places a high emphasis on the bike's ability to generate employment especially through bicycle repair and maintenance.

Courtesy Zambikes
Another group interested in a similar focus is Zambikes in Africa. The Zambike mission is actually dedicated to saving lives by connecting villages to critical medical treatment in Africa through transportation solutions. Their focus: The Zambulance.

Zambikes creates local jobs by creating and building locally, in Zambia and Uganda, high quality, affordable bikes built specifically for African roads. They also build specialty carts to haul product and people. Oh, and let's not forget  bamboo bikes, built using locally grown and sustainable materials for the global market.

If you've been to a BfW event, especially a 'green' event, you may have seen my Zambike in person. It's made with bamboo, hemp, and resin and it's a great ride! People always stop and ask about it, some telling me about their failed attempts to make one of their own. I've had this bike for about two years now and it's held up great. It rides a bit like steel but without the weight. It absorbs the bumps in the road and smooths them out in way unlike aluminum. It's absolutely perfect for the city bumps in and around DC. The frame itself weighs about 11 lbs.

More importantly this bike, and others like it, creates employment for over 35 Zambians. Below you can see John cutting the bamboo from a field, Danny baking it for strength, Mazimba working the jig, Esnard affixing logos, and Stain (I'm guessing a nickname) spraying the final product.
JOHN courtesy Zambikes
DANNY courtesy Zambikes

MAZIMBA courtesy Zambikes
ESNARD courtesy Zambikes

STAIN courtesy Zambikes

Friday, April 19, 2013

Why Wait For Christmas...

Courtesy Kristi's Christmas
 The time to ride is NOW.

Go slow and take your time as you travel on your way;
Follow your heart, go for your dreams no matter what others may say.

You’ll have many precious moments that too soon become the past;
Do things that will make you happy and make memories that will last.

Kristi Lynne Brown
March 16, 1968 – June 24, 1987
1986 WSHS graduate

Bikes for the World is proud to be part of Kristi's Christmas, a local organization dedicated to providing items to selected Fairfax county kids in need. Kristi Brown was a young woman who died in a tragic beltway accident in 1987. Her parents established this fund in her name and memory to honor her giving spirit. Kristi was also a heart, kidney, and cornea donor.

Courtesy West Springfield Rotary & Irving Middle School
 On April 13, 2013 the West Springfield Rotary, whose motto is "Service Above Self", along with Irving Middle School and West Springfield High School hosted their second annual bike collection with Bikes for the World. The group netted 94 bikes topping last year's collection of 61 bikes (also an impressive turnout).

Philip Dondes, a West Springfield Rotarian and new BfW collection manager, approached BfW about donating some bikes locally. Although most of our bikes are donated overseas where mechanics are readily available to recondition our donated bikes, Dondes pulled together a one time partnership between the Rotary, to collect bikes, Bikes for the World, to donate the bikes, The Bike Lane, who agreed to do free safety checks on the bikes, and Kristi's Christmas, who would help identify possible recipients. The latter two are very important criteria for BfW to consider a local donation.

Bikes for the World helped identify a select number of kids bikes for this program. Dondes then had these bikes transported to The Bike Lane, a local bike shop, who did the safety checks and in some cases swapped parts around to make 13 usable safe bikes to donate to Kristi's Christmas.

Irving Middle School
The Middle School students inspired Dondes who found it rewarding to be surrounded by their young, giving spirit."I never got the feeling the students wanted to be elsewhere," said Dondes.

Kristi's Christmas has special ties to the Springfield school district where Kristi was a West Springfield High School graduate. The organization partners with students at the high school to serve as a 'buddy' during their huge Christmas event.

All Fairfax county school administrators and counselors identify the neediest children in their districts for this program. At Christmastime, Kristi's Christmas partners each child up with a high school student who accompanies them for breakfast, a shopping spree at Target, and finishes with a visit from Santa.

But the donations and support come in year round. Other donated items distributed throughout the year include books, sleeping bags, food, backpacks, clothing, and real soon BIKES! All thanks to the hard work of Irving Middle School who helped advertise, collect, and process all these bikes for Bikes for the World. And let's not forget the West Springfield Rotary for organizing the whole thing, bringing it to our attention, and seeing it through. We hope to bring you an update on the distribution of those bikes when it happens in the next few weeks.

Kristi's Christmas has ABSOLUTELY NO OVERHEAD. All donations go to the kids of Fairfax county. If you'd like to learn more or help this program please visit  

To learn more about the West Springfield Rotary you can contact Philip Dondes at

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Impact! They Make One

Stone Ridge Social Action BfW Crew
Our very own Stone Ridge for Social Action crew was recently nominated for Montgomery County's Youth Service Award. We know because WE nominated them. The Stone Ridge crew is: Lisa Adam, Allison Arinaga, Ellie Blakeslee, Allie Delgado, Deborah O'Connell, Andie Segura, and advisor Ken Woodard. They didn't win, but we still think they're tops. We bring you excerpts from the nomination letter for a look into why:
Stone Ridge Sacred Heart School of Bethesda has incorporated into their curriculum a program that transports their students' impact from the classroom to remote villages across the globe. The Social Action group meets several times a month and works with several non-profits in the county helping mentor young people and socializing with elders.

"The Social Action Mission Statement is rooted in Goal Three of Sacred Heart Education. The Social Action Program 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."
Bikes for the World partnered with Stone Ridge in 2011, working with two young women who found the experience to be rewarding AND fun. Because of the popularity of the program, the participants tripled this past year.

Starting last fall the girls started coming out twice a month to help load containers of 500+ bikes that will eventually end up in Africa, Central America, or the Philippines. During one such loading that was recently delivered to a Bikes for Education program in Maribojoc, Bohol, Philippines, I saw two of the girls jump up and volunteer to do the hardest job of the loading. We call this the 'third level'. After lining up two rows of bikes on top of each other, we finish the line with a final third row. The bikes on this level are 'tossed' on top of the standing bicycles and requires a certain amount of strength and finesse. They let the men hand them the bikes without so much as blinking.

Yvette and Mya at Woodlin Elementary Collection
For our younger volunteers I've seen the Bikes for the World experience change kids. They tend to like the grease and the tools and forget that what they are doing is 'work'. I've seen shy kids open up once they are taught how to use a pedal wrench. Girls jump right in once they realize it's not 'just for boys'. It's a 'doing' activity that reaches kids who are sometimes left out because they aren't 'athletic enough' or don't care for what is known as 'ball' activities. What I've seen this volunteer experience do here and overseas is give kids confidence where they once had little or none.

The importance of having this group of girls tackling this sometimes greasy job AND taking on some of the more strenuous activities opens up the door to some of our other female volunteers showing them they too, can do this. I often find young girls and even some soccer moms tentative about volunteering with us, thinking they can't do it. Once they see they can, and find out how much fun it is, they often turn out to be some of our hardest workers.
-Yvette Hess, Outreach Coordinator
This crew ranges from the budding actress to calculating engineer. Most of the girls are seniors and have already chosen colleges to move onto next fall. The Stone Ridge girls are making a difference globally and enjoy seeing the difference they are making overseas. What they may not fully realize is the impact they are having right here at home instilling confidence in other women who will continue to do this work with us even after their class graduates and moves on to college.

You can donate a bike at Stone Ridge May 5th see our website for details.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Boys Will Be Boys

3rd year girls from Baclayon National High School, Philippines
Continuing with our focus on girls on bikes...Bikes for the World recently got word from our Philippine partner Bikes for the Philippines Foundation (BfPFI) that when training boys and girls to ride or work on bikes the best practice is often to separate the sexes.

As with other programs we work with, BfPFI was finding many girls who had never ridden a bike before. Many factors contribute to more boys knowing how to ride a bike from time availability to having a bike to ride.

Village Bicycle Project in Ghana was finding even if they gave bikes to girls to ride, their brothers or other males in the village would often steal them for themselves.
In the Philippines each selected student is loaned a bicycle for their sole use, thus eliminating that problem. But when Joel Uichico, Director of BfPFI started training the beneficiaries at Baclayon National High School he noticed a distinct difference when training boys and girls together. Both in riding and maintence training some of the boys were picking it up faster than the girls making training them together challenging.

Uichico said the boys were actually making it harder for the girls to learn at their own pace. And some of them would even refuse to mentor the girls to help them along.

 The education model set up by Uichico hand selected beneficiaries who lived great distances from school to receive bikes through the program in order for them to graduate. He started with the older students, training them in safety, skills, and maintenance. Those students would then in turn help mentor the younger students.

What he found was by separating the students by year and then further into boys and girls, the training was much more productive and focused.

Just as we see here in our cycling circles in DC, men and women are often very different, and some women find it intimidating to learn next to guys. That's why you'll see some bike shops offer classes geared specifically toward women. And bike rides for women only. But once they get the hang of it...On Your Left.

When I visited Baclayon I had the opportunity to ride with our student beneficiaries there. Joel and I joked when we stopped to rest and noticed the girls all removing their helmets and then proceeding to brush and fix their hair. Teenaged girls, we said.

But what I didn't appreciate was the teenaged boys. Uichico recently shared a training observation with us, "Sometimes, the boys would want to teach the prettier girls first. This is all understandable owing to the fact that the children are in their younger teens."

Because no matter how you slice it, boys will be boys no matter what language, what culture, what country. The tiny community of Baclayon on the island of Bohol in the Philippines is no different.

To be fair, I saw nothing but cooperation and camaraderie between the students during my visit. Certainly the skill level did separate the riders, a large majority of newbies being girls. But with time and practice this too shall change.
BfW Outreach Coordinator Yvette Hess
Through the rice paddies, muddy single track, steep rocky terrain of Baclayon, congested traffic of Manila...I never heard one complaint from my generous tour guides, be it the students of BNHS, the Bol-anon cyclists, or Athena and Bans, Champion cyclists, that this girl wasn't keeping up with the best of them. And I did most of it with a camera in hand!

It might take us girls a half a second to gain the respect of our male counterparts, but once we do, there's no stopping us. Guys: try to keep up!

Monday, April 1, 2013

You Go Girl!

The League of American Bicyclists has been focused on women in the cycling community for the past few years now, holding conferences and workshops geared specifically toward women in the cycling community. During the Bike Summit in March in DC Giant USA's general manager, Elysa Walk pointed out, "It's half the population. It's not a niche."

Let me tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. It gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel...the picture of free, untrammeled womanhood. ~ Susan B. Anthony 1896

Door Secondary School Bicycle Library loans bike to students

The importance of a bike in a girls' hands stretches across the globe. Teaching girls to ride a bike in Africa has been listed as a priority for at least two of our supported projects in Ghana, Sierra Leone, and Namibia. Whether it's the Village Bicycle Project's Learn to Ride program in Sierra Leone or the BEN Namibia backed BEC (bicycle empowerment centre) King's Daughters bicycle shop it's hard to ignore the importance of empowering young women by teaching them to ride.

Cristian Hassan Acosta Villafane teaches a woman to ride
From VBP's blog: For starters, many females in Africa don’t know how to ride, while most males do. They tend to be culturally excluded from riding, for many reasons. Learning to ride is a special gift, one that will stay with them. The gift includes the exuberance of bicycling, balance and speed, girl and machine, confidence, accomplishment.

We found that when we give bikes to girls, they’re too often taken and damaged by the boys. So if we want females to have bikes, we must first supply the males. And early in our involvement, we realized we must teach the females how to ride. It is much easier to teach a young girl than a grown woman. Children don’t have as far to fall, they’re more resilient, and more willing to try new things.
Ramatu Sesay

These young girls will always know how to ride, and no one will take that away. When bikes come around in her life; to her brothers, neighbors, her husband, she’ll ask to use it too, unstuck from the stereotype that bikes are not for girls.

Ramatu Sesay is in the 8th grade at Guadalupe School in Lunsar. Every morning, Ramatu leaves her house at 6 AM to make it to school in time for her first class. She sometimes feels scared walking on the road because the village she lives in is near a mine and there are many large mining trucks speeding along the road as she goes to school. Her new bike gets her to and from school faster leaving more time for chores and studies. The skills she learned in the Learn to Ride program give her the confidence to share the road with pedestrians and traffic and help her travel dangerous roads faster leaving less time on the perilous roads.

We hope to bring you more stories from the girls learning to ride in Africa over the next few weeks so check back for more on their progress. We will also bring you incredible stories of how the bicycle is helping young girls lead better lives aside from just riding.

For now check out the Learn to Ride program in Sierra Leone: