Bikes for the World

Monday, November 4, 2013

Featured Volunteer: Phil Loar

Courtesy EyeCare International
A Featured Volunteer with Bikes for the World not only goes above and beyond in our organization but often lives and breathes the same values in life. We often find those special stand outs helping us reach our mission are also reaching lives in many other ways. Phil Loar is no exception. All those in favor, say EYE.

Phil has helped at collections and loadings over the years and he still brings a group of Jet Blue co-workers out for a day of service with us, the latest at this year's ECARE event in Arlington. But his efforts go far beyond just bikes.

The history does, in fact, begin at ECARE where he used to help manage the event at the turn of the century back when he worked for Arlington County. This is when he met Keith Oberg, who was then the local chapter's volunteer organizer of Pedals for Progress. The relationship between Keith and Phil continued over the years and the two brainstormed on several projects bringing change to ECARE and eventually El Salvador.

The actual year Phil and Keith met is up for discussion but it's safe to say it was over a dozen years ago. As mentioned, both Phil and Keith were working Arlington County's recycling day event...still one of our biggest collection points every year (twice a year to be exact!).

Phil would pull aside the aerosol solvents and penetrating fluids from the household hazardous materials dropped off and pass them over to Keith. So if you are wondering why it seems like we are always  at the end of a can of WD40, that's why; most of our cans are donated leftovers.

The two collaborated to expand ECARE, bringing in BfW partner Art for Humanity, for household good for Honduras and EyeCare International, an organization Phil had been involved in since 1995,  for eyeglasses for El Salvador.

Courtesy Eye Care International
Phil is now the Director of EyeCare International and leads the effort to bring eye glasses and care (including complex surgeries) to Salvadoran villages annually. The 2014 mission is based in the port of La Libertad. 2013 took them to Perquin where the surgical team performed close to 100 surgeries. Typically, over 5,000 patients will travel to these two week clinics in need of eye care.

Most of their necessary supplies, such as medical equipment and thousands of eyeglasses, sorted and examined in the US months before the mission, are shipped via airfreight. In 2012 Bikes for the World was shipping a container of bikes to El Salvador to our new partner CESTA. When Phil learned of this shipment, he and Keith coordinated efforts to ship about half of EyeCare International's supplies in our container, making use of some of the corners and crannies bike frames create. The boxes helped pack our container tight and the shared shipping helped save a ton on freight costs for EyeCare International.

Courtesy Koji Ukai
Phil also introduced the connection between Keith and Koji Ukai. Koji was a Peace Corps volunteer working in El Salvador in 2011 when he helped Phil as a translator during an EyeCare mission.

Koji was working on a water meter project to help make water more accessible to villagers in remote areas in El Salvador. But they were having trouble raising the money for the necessary meters.

"I contacted the Water and Sewer Division of Arlington County and asked if they had some old water meters still in good shape. They had plenty since they were replacing all their meters with a new type of meter. Keith offered to ship them to El Salvador and CESTA facilitated the customs process (aduana) in El Salvador. It turned out to be a great opportunity for everyone, " Phil Loar.

Courtesy CESTA bike project
BfW was honored to ship donated meters for this project, again, in boxes tightly tucked under our bikes' bottom brackets and heaved into the 'troughs' created by our packing method.

Phil continues to volunteer with Bikes for the World when his busy schedule allows, but his involvement with our organization is much bigger. He's helped stretch our reach beyond a youth bike project; we assisted in bringing water to villagers, and the gift of sight to Salvadorans daily.

Affordable transportation is one thing, the ability to see beautiful landscapes and the smiles of  loved ones: pricelss. Phil Loar, in our eyes, is a true champion.