Bikes for the World

Monday, October 28, 2013

Bohol Strong

On October 15th, a 7.2 magnitude earthquake rocked the Philippine island of Bohol. Bohol is part of the island group in the Philippines known as the Visayas. Our partner, Bikes for the Philippines began its bikes for education program on this island and was due to deliver a second shipment of bikes to a new project in Maribojoc, Bohol.

Maribojoc is just one of about a dozen towns in Bohol that were badly affected by this quake. Many of the towns in desperate need of supplies are located along the western coast of Bohol. Our first bike project was launched in Baclayon which is southeast of the main city, Tagbliaran. Many of the reports we are receiving via facebook are from folks in this area that are trying to reach the more remote residents of Bohol who are struggling to receive the basic supplies they need, like rice and water.

80-90% of the houses in Maribojoc were destroyed either in the initial earthquake or in resulting aftershocks, which are still occurring two weeks later. A number of key bridges were also damaged in the October 15th earthquake. Some bridges were submerged and others so compromised only light vehicles (2 wheels) are allowed over them.

Most residents were left without water, electricity, and an ample supply of food. In the days following, Boholanos struggled to deliver supplies to those  cut off from neighboring towns, often resorting to using small boats to reach them.

Most houses in these remote areas of Bohol are made of concrete blocks and bamboo, neither of which are any match against the strong force of the earthquake that was initially centered in Maribojoc. Those living in houses that were still standing often still moved outside away from the structures that could be unsafe in the coming aftershocks.

Filipinos, especially from the lower island group of Mindanao, are all too familiar with natural disasters and live in fear of tsunamis given their proximity to the water. Many people ran for higher ground during this latest earthquake scare, which may have saved their lives as so many homes were destroyed. One family had gone to market when the quake hit and came home to find their home demolished.

 Elvie, who welcomed us to Baclayon National High School (BNHS) during our visit there last year, is the principal at BNHS, but lives in Maribojoc. She lost her home in this month's earthquake.

The house seen here is located in Catigbian. The owner is related to one of the main facilitators of our bikes for education program, Ma Lou. Ma Lou and her husband Rhowix escaped uninjured and with little to no damage to their own house in Tagbliaran City. They still spent a few nights outside in a tent afraid of damage that could still occur afterwards. Many aftershocks can often be more damaging than the original tremor.

 The biggest issue has been reaching some of the more remote areas of this region to ensure everyone has food and water. We have also received word that many of the much needed supplies are being sold at incredibly high prices given the demand and complexity of replenishing the supply.

Many people associated with Bikes for the Philippines including the director Joel Uichico, the owners of Peacock Garden, who helped pay for the initial shipment of bikes, and Nestor Petelos, president of Bohol Local Development Foundation (BLDF) and who we can't say enough about, have come together to collect and distribute supplies to their neighbors affected by the quake.

Nestor, who has dedicated his life to fighting poverty, lost his father right before the quake hit. Amid his own personal tragedy we saw a grave need swelling around him and sprung into action. He immediately organized his own relief mission and set out on motorbike and in some cases foot to reach residents cut off from main roads. Some of these people reported only seeing media crews who came through to report the widespread damage, no relief missions.

Nestor found communities pulling together helping each other out waiting patiently for supplies of rice and water, which they brought. They are now shifting gears to try to rebuild their precious towns. Some homeowners lost everything except what they were wearing and are struggling to find relief loans since they don't physically have a title in hand for their destroyed homes.

 Many historic churches were damaged after the initial tremor, including the centerpiece of Baclayon, Baclayon Church. The tower you can see here in the background during the first delivery of bikes two years ago collapsed.

The fate of these historic landmarks brought media attention to Bohol. The well known Chocolate Hills split in half, exposing the mystery beneath them. But it is the spirit of this island, the strength of its people, and the commitment to rebuild that is the true story of Bohol.

Our bike program is on hold, while efforts to bring this island back to what it was continues. School will resume in the upcoming weeks and eventually our bikes arriving in Maribojoc will continue to be distributed among the students who may need them now more than ever.

Special thanks to everyone reporting from Bohol on Facebook, where we borrowed images and stories for this posting. Our thoughts and prayers are with you.

Monday, October 7, 2013

¿Qué es una meta?

Courtesy Adelante
Bikes for the World is set to send a container of bikes to Fundacion Adelante in Honduras later this year. This shipment will be made possible in part thanks to the support of our newest corporate partner, Gildan Activewear , whose Branded Apparel division headquarters are based out of South Carolina.

Adelante works with the poorest individuals, mostly women, in rural Honduras to help improve the quality of life for them and their families. Adelante provides short term loans to help establish and sustain small businesses such as food stands and tortillas sales.

Adelante's model is very similar to the program Bikes for the World supports in Costa Rica under FINCA. Adelante is a micro-finance provider lending an average loan of between $25-50 which is paid back in full with interest.

Children in Atlantida Courtesy Adelante
The loans are largely meant to help move women out of poverty by empowering them to help themselves. Honduras is labeled as the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Many struggling rural Hondurans have many children, may be single mothers, have limited education, and are living hand to mouth. These are the potential clients Adelante reaches out to.

Adelante's main focus, in addition to immediately improving the quality of life for this population, is also to instill long term change within the community. Reaching children remains their main goal and they know the way to do that is through moms.

Marlena Courtesy Adelante
¿Qué es una meta? Every business venture needs a clear defined vision. Adelante works with potential borrowers to set up their own business models, stressing one major goal, una meta, from the start. Often, several people will band together to take out one loan, each needing to trust the other.

Adelante then instills the following values in the budding entrepreneurs: Unity, Discipline, Work, and Courage. All parties signing for the loan are jointly responsible for paying back the loan on time. The group meets regularly to report their progress.
Meet Marlena. Marlena is a single mother living in La Masica. She joined with several other women in the area to take out a loan with Adelante. Marlena's goal was to make and sell tortillas with corn she intended to buy with the money from the loan.

Marlena was able to buy a small portion of corn to start her business through this loan. She sells tortillas right out of her home, but as you can see, she uses a bike to get the corn home from the market.
Bikes are a valuable resource in rural Honduras where a majority of people walk to get to work and school. Bikes for the World works with a local group called Art for Humanity to bring small quantities of bikes into the country. What we learned from this effort is: it's often hard to get much needed resources into the country.

So when one of the marketing directors at Gildan,  a leading supplier of quality branded basic family apparel, including T-shirts, fleece, sports shirts, socks and underwear, approached us about bikes for Honduras we were all ears. Turns out Gildan is the largest private employer in Honduras. And Gildan had una meta, one goal, to establish major charitable partnerships with organizations whose mission is in line with Gildan's community involvement objectives. 

Turns out Gildan is also a socially responsible, environmentally conscious company. Just last year they recycled 87% of their waste company-wide. They also give back to their communities where they operate by funding a number of initiatives and promoting employee volunteering. They have provided scholarships and assisted in various school renovations in countries such as Haiti, Barbados, Dominican Republic, and Nicaragua. And now they will be helping to provide bikes to families and workers in Honduras.

Courtesy Adelante
The vision: together Bikes for the World and Gildan could collect, store, and ship several hundred bikes to Adelante in Honduras by the end of the year. With Gildan's help and resources, Bikes for the World is now expanding south to make this initiative a go.

Keith Whitaker, that market director we just told you about, is leading the effort by first holding a collection at Gildan's Branded Apparel Division headquarters in Charleston, South Carolina. He is also talking with other groups in the community, hoping to organize several more bike collections in the coming months. 

Bikes collected in North and  South Carolina will be combined for this one goal, providing affordable transportation to rural Hondurans while supporting the micro-finance program currently in place. Once we have enough bikes in Carolina, Gildan will assist in loading them onto a returning container, typically heading back to Honduras empty. The bike shipment will be sent directly to the Caribbean coast, where Gildan is based and the efforts of Adelante are most greatly felt.

Donate your bikes in South Carolina October 21-25. Check our website for details.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Featured Volunteer: One Planet, One People, One Message

St Mary of Sorrows
This month Bikes for the World recognizes the effort of a congregation of volunteers for their dedication and hard work over the past two decades. St. Mary of Sorrows out of Fairfax has collected 2,183 bikes over the years and enlisted the help from countless volunteers, young and old.

It all began back in 1997 when a woman by the name of Muriel Grim approached Linda Hansen with an idea. Muriel, an environmentalist, enlisted the help of Linda, a cycling enthusiast, to collect bikes for a local recycling group known then as Pedals for Progress. They met with Keith Oberg, now Director of Bikes for the World, and the St. Mary of Sorrows annual bike collection was born.

"We sat on a truck bed discussing the concept of bicycle recycling, how a bike collection could be run, etc. They loved it and went off and organized a spring collection. I went with a 24' Budget truck and they filled it- with 265 bikes!!! We were blown away," recalls Oberg.

Linda, Brian, Earl, Jackie
What was unique about this collection right from the start was the reach across denominations. St. Mary's collection was not ONE church merely collecting bikes for an organization. Linda Hansen reached out to the faith community in the area and invited everyone to join hands in this global effort.

Over the years St. Mary of Sorrows has worked with Burke Presbyterian, Accotink Unitarian Universalist, Lord of Life Lutheran, and St. George's Methodist. The efforts of these faith communities coming together for one common cause made life simpler for Bikes for the World. Instead of five or six smaller collections spread across the county, this one combined collection point made for a more rewarding community service project and made it much simpler logistically for BfW. St. Peter's in the Woods does have one smaller collection point the same day, but it's right around the corner making for an easy pick up point.

Brian Keith and Earl Smith
After a 15 year run, Linda handed the reins over to Jackie Colonna who now manages the collection for Bikes for the World. Linda still remains heavily involved with the collection, however.

The transition was seamless not only because Jackie had been working on the collection for several years but because key volunteers like Brian Keith and Earl Smith have been working side by side with Linda from the early years.

"If Linda and Jackie are the cogs in this well oiled machine, Brian and Earl are the muscle behind it. From what I could see they 'own' the physical part of the collection and really get the job done. By outsmarting stuck pedals, mentoring youth and newer volunteers, and removing locks with the biggest bolt cutters I've ever seen," Yvette Hess, BfW Outreach Coordinator

Jackie has also taken on the responsibility of requesting tithing funds (with Brian's help) on behalf of Bikes for the World.  St. Mary's has a very large Parish Life and active Social Ministry. Securing space for any one event begins early in the year and you can find something going on on site almost every weekend. Likewise, financial donations range from housing projects, to feeding the hungry, or providing medical assistance to those in needs.

It truly is the work of all groups involved that keeps this drive so successful. But Linda says it best when she credits what's behind the effort. The mission of St. Mary's is ultimately to spread the word of the Gospel whether that be by word, or in this case by bike. She says the bike is a gift. Everyone involved is Spirit driven. We are driven to make this happen. It is the work of God, Linda Hansen.