Bikes for the World

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Redefining dis-ABLED

Mechanic Agyen Emmanuel Courtesy BNB
Meet Bikes for the World's newest partner (sort of). We have been coordinating shipments to Ability Bikes for years with Working Bikes and consulting with Bikes Not Bombs, who help set up this co-op in Ghana in 2008. July 2013 marks our first time shipping to the program from Virginia.

Ability Bikes Cooperative is a bicycle micro-enterprise in Koforidua that is owned and operated by physically challenged individuals, many afflicted by polio.

This full service repair and retail bicycle shop in the Eastern Region of Ghana imports used bikes and the staff of five mechanics, all with physical disabilities, refurbishes and sells the bikes to support the program.

John Sule Bukari Courtesy BNB
"The co-op is good for us because we are all brothers and sisters here. We share our ideas and no one is controlling someone.

I'm also very much impressed about the co-op because that one- one man, one vote. When we are in a meeting each and every one has his own vote."

     John Sule Bukari, Mechanic.

Bike shipment Courtesy BNB
Ability Bikes was established in 2008 under the supervision of David Branigan of Bikes Not Bombs. The cooperative is comprised of seven full time employees/owners, five mechanics and two administrators. Branigan helped train them for two months before turning over the shop to their proven capable hands.

"All of the members of Ability Bikes Cooperative are physically challenged, mostly from polio, and are “mobility challenged,” yet on a daily basis they run a business that provides a valuable service, increased mobility, to able-bodied people. Through these daily interactions with people in Koforidua, Ability Bikes members actively transform social perceptions of physically challenged people in society and redefine their role as highly valued," David Branigan.

Julius Amegavi Courtesy BNB
Ability Bikes challenges current social structures that are oppressive to people with disabilities. The trained mechanics in this program have proven their skill among bike owners and continue to break down barriers in society as a whole.

"I know how to do everything about the bicycle. From the time I remove a bicycle from the stand and put it on the ground I know that bicycle is a complete bicycle. The person can move it to everywhere."

     Julius Amegavi, Mechanic

Ability Bikes provides more than a full time job and skills training to its employees. Each employee shares a stake in the business. Every member is part owner and bears responsibility for the success of the shop. "Ability Bikes represents an important model for sustainable development that cultivates autonomy through capacity building and strategic technical support," David Branigan.

Agyen Emmanuel with Mirriam Oduro Courtesy BNB
Mirriam Oduro was a hair dresser before she became a mechanic with Ability Bikes. She said once she finished school she stayed in the house for a year and half because, due to her disability, she was unable to find employment. Ability Bikes employed her, trained her to become a mechanic and now she has money to support herself and her family. She has a long list of clients and excels at truing wheels. She is overcoming stereotypes, setting an example, making a difference, and providing an excellent role model for her children.

"I want my children to see me doing this work, that is my dream. I'm proud of myself because I am the only woman mechanic in Koforidua."

     Mirriam Oduro.

Check out more photos of Ability Bikes, courtesy Bikes Not Bombs.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Right Tool for the Job

LEFT: Ghana. RIGHT: Springfield, Virginia. SAME container.
The Village Bicycle Project has been a long time partner of Bikes for the World. In fact over the last 8 years Bikes for the World has donated over 12,000 bikes to the project in Ghana and Sierra Leone making them our third largest partner (based on bikes donated). We have only donated more bikes to projects in Panama and Costa Rica, both now in the 15,000 range.

BfW bikes heading to Ghana's upper east region
BfW currently has containers on the way to the Village Bicycle Project (VBP) in both Ghana and Sierra Leone. Our last shipment to the project arrived in May and was unloaded into their new warehouse in Accra on the southern coast of Ghana.

From there, 240 bikes were transported north to the Upper East Region of Ghana where VBP was hosting a bicycle training program for three regions in June. To put the geography in perspective, the distance between Accru and Sandema, one of the villages where they were teaching, is 788 km or about 15 hours of drive time.

Basket weaver in Laabissi
For three weeks starting May 31, VBP would be teaching basic and advanced mechanics to villagers in three communities: Sandema, Nyobok, and Laabissi. The importance of the classes is to not only empower the communities that VBP serves, but to ensure that the bikes donated have a long, productive lives with their new owners.

Participants in the classes vary in age, occupation, and sex. In Nyobok, for example, VBP was shocked at the huge female turnout accounting for 72% of trainees. Most were farmers and then students.

Back in April VBP traveled to Laabissi and met the basket weavers who would be participating in the program taught in June. The bikes they received last month were all equipped with rear carriers to assist in carrying their finished baskets to market for sale. 80 women associated with this craft participated in the training programs in Laabissi.

VBP Program Coordinator Jason led the training programs alongside local trainers Sammy and Moro, both from the Upper East Region of Ghana. Not needing a translator made the curriculum much easier to deliver and grasp.

All participants paid a small fee to enter the program and received a bicycle from VBP for about $5 USD.

Upper East Region of Ghana
The landscape of this region is flat, dry, and very dusty. Everyone who took part in the Nyobok program requested 26" mountain bikes. You can imagine the maintenance that might be necessary to keep these bikes in good, clean working order. And as testament to the success of what is being taught, many of the bikes issued from the 2011 class were still in use.

Even more proof of how successful and anticipated the classes are can be seen in the attendance. Eager participants were gathered in Nyobok by dawn the day of training. The start time was supposed to be 8am, but they called for the trainers as early as 6am.

Later in the day, VBP offered a more in depth look into bicycle mechanics in their Advanced Class. Here participants learn skills like wheel truing and bearing assemblies. They are also offered hand tools at a 50% discount. There was such a huge turn out VBP ended up holding two classes instead of one and had to bring in more tools from the warehouse.

Jacob and Emmanuel came out to help VBP with training in Nyobok. Emmanuel's wife received a bike during the last training session. Jacob is in his early 20s and he also helped last time. The VBP trainers saw a huge improvement in his skills from before. Both local trainers were gifted with bicycle specific tools for assisting.

Pelungu is the nearest market town where bike owners go for parts and repairs. Francis, the local mechanic there, runs a large workshop with a staff of twenty. VBP is suggesting Jacob train under Francis to become an actual bicycle mechanic.

Young student learns how to loosen handlebars
VBP continues to focus on teaching females not only how to ride a bicycle but how to care for them. In Laabissi, one young woman caught the eye of trainers. 18 year-old Rita Putebil joined the Advance Class and volunteered for every demonstration and excelled in all the practicals.

Later that evening they invited her back and introduced even more specific tools such as the crank-puller and chain-breaker. Training with these types of tools is usually left for local bicycle repairers. VBP gave Rita her own set of tools before tasking her with the challenge of caring for the 80 bikes delivered to her community by VBP.

Dispatch 32: Simon, What We Learned from Ash Dumford on Vimeo.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Where Is Your Old Bike?

NOVA Meet Up group loading at Springfield in March
Did you donate a bike at REI last spring in Virginia? There is a good chance we can tell you exactly where it went! Donors often ask where their bikes are going when they drop them off with us, but we can rarely pinpoint it at that particular moment. If you continue to follow our progress, however, you might just find out...OR better yet even see your bike!

Team in Ghana who unloaded the container
Back in March we loaded a container bound for the Village Bicycle Project in Ghana. We were cleaning out our Springfield trailers and the NOVA Meet Up group (photo above) came out to help us finish the load.

Two months later the container was in Accra being unloaded by the crew to the left. The Ghana team is Moro, Abokyi, Jason, Sammy and Tofic with local retailer Adi, outside the new warehouse. This was the day before our container arrived...the first one to be unloaded into the brand new warehouse.

Earlier the same week the Village Bicycle Project moved what was left in the old warehouse to their new permanent one in Accra. From their facebook page:
After relocating bicycles in Ghana for 13 years, and working out of multiple lockups and storage units, we finally signed the deed on our own warehouse space. Centralizing our distribution means we're going to be better prepared and much quicker at responding to applications.

A huge thank you! to all our supporters who helped make this happen! Today we moved 200 bikes from one of our importers and worked long into the night. We're all pretty exhausted...
Then came the container from Bikes for the World Springfield, Virginia.

Once again, here's the recap:
March 15, 2013- You uncovered your unused bike in your garage to donate Saturday

March 16, 2013- Your old bike was donated at REI in Fairfax Virginia

March 18, 2013- After being loaded onto a shipping container earlier that weekend your old bike was transported to the Port of Baltimore where it would leave on its sea journey to Africa

May 16, 2013 Village Bicycle Project finished moving their warehouse contents into a new facility in Accra Ghana

May 20, 2013 The Ghana team seen above was gearing up for our container the next day

May 21, 2013 Bikes for the World container was unloaded into the new warehouse in Ghana

May 25, 2013 Some of those bikes were transported to Ghana's Upper east region for a training program

June 17, 2013 Bikes sold to participants in the program for $5.00 USD (update on blog coming soon)

You gotta love facebook. We are getting real time updates from some of our partners. Don't believe me? You can watch the whole container being unloaded right here (you might even see YOUR bike):

Dispatch 36: Container Unloading from Ash Dumford on Vimeo.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Featured Volunteer: William Nickel

TeraThink "Rim and Bare It" corporate group
When you think of Bikes for the World volunteers you may think of the collection managers who tirelessly put together successful bike drives year after year. Or our bike processors who stand in the rain or 90 degree temps prepping bikes for shipping pedal after pedal. Perhaps you think about the loaders who move thousands of bikes onto our containers or the third level stackers lifting those heavy bikes and putting them into the bike puzzle that makes are numbers soar.

But the one question every one of those volunteers always wants an answer to is: How many bikes? How many bikes fit in a container, how many bikes did you donate last year, how many bikes has Costa Rica gotten over the years, how many bikes do you donate locally?

William Nickel
Even though we always count everything, we haven't been great about keeping track. That's what volunteer William Nickel does. We know that we've collected 80,131 bikes since 2005 (it's gone up since the last time we updated our counter on the website!). We know that we had a 51.9% increase in 2012 from the previous year.

We know that Costa Rica and Panama are currently neck and neck for the top dog slot of bikes donated from Bikes for the World with 15,871 and 15,873 respectively. But a shipment to Panama scheduled this month will secure their lead.

Bill got involved with Bikes for the World back when we were working with Pedals for Progress. He immediately saw what we were doing and the importance for good record keeping. From the onset he has been tracking our shipments and created a eloquent spreadsheet in Excel to do so.

He's learned a lot about Excel over the years and even had to upgrade out of the 2003 version just to add all the exceptions he needed to the formulas to create the different tables and graphs necessary to capture how many bikes we've donated to which partner in which country. He recently added Bikes Shipped by Storage Location to track where we were actually shipping from. And now with the click of a button we can create visual graphs that capture our progress.

Courtesy William Nickel
Bill wasn't just doing this for Bikes for the World, he created great record keeping systems for another organization too. Imagine our horror when we learned that Bill needed a break. We knew enough about Excel to add a column of data but what Bill was doing for us was a magical mystery.

Bill took the time to sit down with us and go over everything he set up. He went over Excel functions, how they worked, how to set them up, how to maintain the complex  =SUMIFS('Are You Kidding Me'!$E$6:$E$263,'I'm Going To Be Able To Do This'!$B$6:$B$263,"Complex Programming",'When We're Done'!$D$6:$D$263,"2013"). And at the end of his short in depth tutoring session, we got it! It all made sense. The tables he labored over setting up worked. They worked bike magic for us. I asked about breakfast and he laughed. I KNOW there is an Excel formula that will make breakfast for you....I just need to find out what it is.

It's a powerful program and Bill took the time to study it and find a good fit for Bikes for the World. Over the years he tweaked and perfected it. And he made it easy to understand and use. He got us our numbers quickly and allowed us to share them with you. We know how important this's why it's featured on our home page. And if you meander further into our website you'll even find the exact worksheet we use.

William Nickel we cannot thank you enough for your years of service. Our helmets are off in appreciation. Best of luck to you; we'll see you on the bike trails.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Bikes for Tykes, Teens, and Adults in Need

We recently brought you a post about our local impact and the challenges we face in donating bikes locally. Overall we have donated about 2,000 bikes in the United States and that number is growing significantly year to year. Last year we donated 634 bikes locally compared to just over 100 three years earlier.

As we mentioned in that earlier post Rockville's TERRIFIC program and Phoenix Bikes are two of the organizations we support most. Some of the challenges of donating bikes locally include storage, maintenance, safety and training.

BfW bikes donated locally
Many of the bikes we receive through donations are in need of parts or repair. They may need new tires, chains are rusty, brakes need adjusting...they are definitely not ride ready. And bike maintenance can be expensive, which is how we end up with some of our donations in the first place.

We do have a qualified mechanic on staff, which is helpful in determining which bikes to send overseas, which to keep locally, which ones to strip for parts, and which few aren't worth saving at all. But our focus is on collecting and shipping bikes in bulk, keeping us on target with helping the greatest number of people by donating about 14,000 bikes annually.

Courtesy Bikes for Tykes and Teens
 What we need is more individuals like Charles Jones. He recognized the global scale on which Bikes for the World operates and asked himself what he could do to help. He saw an awareness poster for Bikes for the World on a Spokes Etc bulletin board. It said, "Give us your bikes: They are needed in Africa."

Jones knew the power of the bicycle and he was aware that there was a need for them right in his own neighborhood. The idea of Bikes for Tykes, Teens, and Adults in Need was born.

"Life is like a ten-speed bicycle. Most of us have gears we never use." Charlie Brown

Team member Wolfgang Maier with refurbished bikes
 Charles Jones was on a 24-speed mountain bike and using every gear to get over every obstacle others couldn't. Taking on the responsibility of finding used bikes, fixing them up, and delivering them is a daunting task. One most people only think about and ask us why there isn't more being done locally. Simple answer: there aren't many Charles Jones out there.

Jones looked in his own community for help, and found it. With the sponsorship of Heritage Presbyterian Church and training from Spokes Etc. Bikes for Tykes, Teens, and Adults in Need came to fruition.
Courtesy Bikes for Tykes and Teens
Jones gets his bikes from neighborhood associations, Fairfax County Police, Spokes Etc., and Bikes for the World. Many of the unique 18" wheel sized bikes we receive are donated to local organizations such as Bikes for Tykes and Teens. These odd sized wheels are hard to find replacement parts for overseas and are typically not sent.

Sometimes folks ask us about the competition between similar bike organizations in the area. Our answer is simple, what competition? There are plenty of bikes and we are all working toward the same goal, recycling a valuable resource and getting it into the hands of someone who will use it to better their life.

Courtesy Bikes for Tykes and Teens
Bikes for Tykes, Teens, and Adults in need has donated over 1,100 refurbished bicycles in the seven years they existed. From our recent DICK'S shipment BfW donated 50 bikes to the organization.

After Jones fixes the bikes and performs a safety check the bikes are distributed to a number of welfare agencies in the DC area. Some of the bigger ones include: UCM, Mt. Eagle Elementary, Alexandria Salvation Army, Rising Hope Church, Hoffman-Boston Elementary, Malcolm X (DC), Homestretch in Falls Church, and New Hope Housing.

Jones tells us he once received a letter from a bike beneficiary who was affected by Hurricane Katrina who wrote, "p.s. You know kids need to ride a bicycle."  He instantly recognized the importance a bicycle brings to a young life. It's more than a toy, it's a teacher. A bicycle teaches us how to balance. It forces us to make decisions and encourages us to choose. It builds confidence and independence.

"Life is like a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving." Einstein. And nothing is slowing this motivated, dedicated neighborhood mechanic.

Monday, July 1, 2013

We Did It!

In the past four weeks Bikes for the World handled close to 10,000 bikes. It wasn't so long ago when 10,000 bikes was an entire year's work! But I did say handled, which includes shipping as well as receiving. So basically in less than a month we filled up a warehouse then emptied it back out again. Really.

 You may recall how excited we were to move into our new location more centrally located in Arlington. We had big plans. More volunteers, another volunteer day, dual shipments....We loved the idea of having electric and restrooms. We'd be Metro accessible. We had a covered dock and multiple doors...

We took possession of the facility in late April and immediately started bringing collection bikes into this warehouse. In fact our Operations Manager, Nick Colombo loved driving right into our storage location so much, he began bringing ALL of our bikes here, even the ones from Maryland (which would normally go to King Farm).

This new warehouse was going to make this year's DICK'S Sporting Goods promotion run as smoothly as a high performance track bike! We were expecting over 5,000 bikes from the national retailer and we were ready.

We hired a part time staff. Devised a busy but reliable weekly unload schedule and in turn a comfortable, nicely paced shipping schedule. We put out the call for volunteers and started scheduling corporate groups to help us load.

And the bikes came pouring in, as we predicted. In just two weeks, our warehouse was filling up fast. We had decided not to ship earlier in the month to focus on bringing in, unloading, and processing bikes. In hindsight, this might have been a mistake.

What that meant was, we expected over 6,000 bikes in this location alone, counting the local collections in addition to the nationally collected DICK'S bikes. No problem, we had this warehouse until at least the end of July, probably longer.

May 31, 2013.
This is when we got the call. Even though we anticipated a late summer move, our lease with Vornado was month to month. And there was movement on the property. The grocery store chain moving into this location wanted to be in by 2015 and they still had to tear down the old BMW place we called home for a month.
We had to move. 3,000 bikes. In a month.

Luckily the warehouse right next store was empty and Vornado offered it to us as an alternative. We stopped bringing bikes into 1200 S Eads immediately and for the next three weeks we brought the remaining DICK'S bikes into the adjacent warehouse 1420. We also diverted two trucks to Chicago's Working Bikes and St. Louis Bicycle Works...there was plenty to go around.

This would ease our stress to ship in July because we would have the use of this new location through the end of the year. But we had 4,500 bikes sitting next door and they had to be gone by July 1st. Time to rework the shipping schedule!

We started June 14-15 with a container for Barbados. The corporate group from PBS did such a great job loading it we actually had to cancel the group coming the next day because we didn't have enough left to do. This made us rethink the rest of the schedule.

The following week we scheduled THREE containers in ONE week. The next, FOUR! We invited PBS back and they didn't disappoint. The group from GMU/US State Department (seen left) finished the first of the last four containers and started another one at the same time for Kenya. Then we did another Kenya and finished up with one heading to El Salvador.

The bottom line is we had an impossible job to complete...and we did it! We moved a ton of bikes in those last two weeks of June. Over 50% of the bikes we've donated so far this year have been shipped from this 1200 S Eads warehouse. 4,637 bikes total. Besides one container for Costa Rica that was loaded in May with 506 bikes, we did it all in the month of June. Over half the bikes we've shipped this year (8,013) happened in the last two weeks of June 2013. Monumental to say the least!

Somebody call Guinness, if it's not a world record it's at least worthy of a toast! My Goodness. Brilliant!