Bikes for the World

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

One Bike Benefits More Than One Person

Youth mechanics in the 2014 program
Bikes for the World has about a dozen active partners around the world who receive our donated bikes regularly. Each one of these programs is unique in how they are using our donated bikes to positively impact their surrounding communities.

In Panama we partner with La Asociación Panameña de Industrias de Buena Voluntad (Goodwill Panama). Goodwill Panama operates a storefront that not only employs the skills taught at Goodwill Panama, but also generates revenue to help pay for those training programs, such as business training and bike mechanics.

Ruben runs metal program
Bikes donated to Goodwill Panama from Bikes for the World are refurbished in the metals program and then sold in the storefront  to help support the project. Individuals with disabilities or from disadvantaged backgrounds take part in the programs to learn workforce skills that will help them earn more and provide better lives for their families.

Ruben currently oversees the metal program at Goodwill Panama. He trains all the apprentices and overseas their work in the program.The program begins with  bicycle repair, with participants learning the basics of bike mechanics and moving through more difficult repairs. The final stage of the program is welding, which is what most apprentices end up doing for work once they complete the program.

Elisondro Tuñón

Elisondro Tuñón purchased one the bikes donated by Bikes for the World and reconditioned by Goodwill Panama.

Elisondro is a bricklayer and uses his bike to get to work much faster than he did before. To get to some of his construction jobs Elisondro traveled on foot sometimes as far as two hours away.

Now with his bike, he is able to make that commute in a quarter of the time. This allows Elisondro to take jobs that are even further from his home without sacrificing time with his family.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Central America Trip: El Salvador

The Salvadoran Center for Appropriate Technology (CESTA) was founded in 1980 in El Salvador. Bikes for the World began shipping to them in 2012. Sister organization, Bikes Not Bombs has been donating bikes to support the project since 2000.

From BNB:
CESTA imports over 4,000 used bicycles into San Salvador each year, and these bicycles get refurbished in the EcoBici program that supports young people at risk of gang membership to build skills in bicycle mechanics, to gain a strong and positive community within CESTA and to access job opportunities at CESTA refurbishing the bicycles for sale. CESTA’s youth programs also build pathways for young people to access paid leadership roles within the program and organization.


CESTA's goal is to promote the empowerment of community organizations and municipalities in El Salvador to improve their quality of life in harmony with the environment. Their primary areas of work are: energy and transport, agro-ecology, community health, solid waste management, forestry, and biodiversity. The bicycle program conducted with bikes from BfW contributes to the energy and transport sector by promoting bicycle as an economical and environmentally-friendly means of transport.

The bicycles CESTA receives from BfW (and other groups such as Working Bikes, Cycle North-South, and Bikes Not Bombs) are generally sold to the public, either direct individual retail or wholesaled in small lots. A smaller number are donated to community groups to be raffled for funds, or directly benefit disadvantaged individuals. Others are retained by CESTA as a fleet for school campaigns to raise awareness about cycling and the environment, and provide healthy activities for at-risk youth.


Eco-Bici, the school repair shop, specifically provides internships in bike repair to low-income youth. The interns typically stay for 3 months to gain skills, although some who exhibit special skills or needs stay for a year or more. They receive an allowance for food and transportation and earn a small sum for each bike repaired. Some students and interns from more distant towns are lodged in CESTA's own dormitory.

Many of the interns go on to work in bike repair or open their own shops afterwards. The school repair shop also operates a showroom where the bikes are sold (usually for $20-65 depending on the type of bike). Small-scale merchants can purchase bike wholesale either in "as-is" condition, or after Eco-Bici mechanics make repairs. These small bike shop owners then re-sell the bikes in their communities and continue to repair the bikes as needed.


Antonio buys bikes from CESTA and repairs them himself. He currently sells the refurbished bikes in front of a friend's store but hopes to soon have his own bike shop. Antonio sells the bikes he repairs for $50 each and lives solely off the money he makes on these sales. After repairs Antonio makes $10-15 off each bike he sells.

Antonio used to work in the packing industry but was unable to maintain that position after developing a disability that prevented him from the manual labor required in his previous job. Antonio has been selling bikes for the last three years. When he starts his own shop he will supplement his income with bike repairs.


Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Central America Trip: Costa Rica

Fundacion Integral Campesina de Costa Rica (FINCA Costa Rica) is a long-standing Bikes for the World partner. We shipped our first container to FINCA Costa Rica in our start up year, the summer of 2005. Since then we have donated over 20,000 bikes to the program, 20% of our overall donations.

FINCA Costa Rica works to improve socioeconomic conditions and quality of life for the poorest families in Costa Rica, especially those living in rural areas. Their primary model to achieve this goal is through the establishment of community-run micro-credit groups known as ECCs (Empresas de Credito Comunal). The ECCs are owned by local residents and work to provide financial services to their members that help them develop productive activities and reinvest in their communities.


Many of the ECCs participate in the bike project supported by BfW donations. If an ECC chooses to participate in the bike project, FINCA Costa Rica sells them a diverse allotment of bikes and spare parts wholesale. This shipment is donated by Bikes for the World. A container of 500 bikes may be split into 5 equal parts and shared among 5 different communities.

The unloading and distributions of the allotments determined by FINCA Costa Rica usually takes place in a central town within a rural region where the participating ECCs meet to collect their portions. Once the container is split among the ECCs, they then arrange for the delivery and reassembly of the bikes donated by BfW.

Once the ECC assembles and repairs the bikes, they are sold at modest prices within the community and the revenue is funneled back into the ECC to support members' micro-businesses or other activities. Those businesses may be a small market, clothing shop, or repair business for example. Each ECC model differs and is tailored to best support the community it serves. Bikes for the World visited two Empresas during the trip to Costa Rica.


Antonio and Eduviges
Our first visit was with EC Canalete in the Upala region of Northern Costa Rica. The town is situated near the border of Nicaragua in a rural community without many businesses nearby. Many residents walk or take the bus for work or errands.

We spoke with several bike beneficiaries during our visit to this community. Eduviges works on a farm harvesting mamón chino or rambutan, a grape-like fruit.  She used to leave at 5am to complete her two hour commute on foot. It now takes less than an hour, leaving her more time to tend to household chores.

Antonio is a young boy who comes from a very poor family. He became involved with the ECC and started helping with their activities, including unloading the container of bikes from Bikes for the World. In exchange for his hard work the ECC gifted him a bicycle that he now uses for everything.


Next we visited the EC San Francisco which is also located in Northern Costa Rica in Platanar. This remote area was surrounded by pineapple and yucca farms. Many residents walk or take the bus to get to work or school. Most students live about 1-2 miles from their schools. Workers, on average, spend $12 a week on bus fares. Owning a bike is saving them money and time.

Some kids who don't have money to buy a bike can earn one by helping out with the ECC. They may help in the office or unload bikes when they arrive. Some of the older kids even help reassemble and repair some of the bikes. Members of the community who have bike mechanic experience help repair the bikes and are paid in shares, an investment in the ECC.

Danny uses his bike for school and recreation. Biking is a growing form of recreation in the area where young people don't have many extra-curricular activities. Danny also uses his bike to help his mom with errands at her small shop in the town center about a mile away from their home. Danny often lets some of the younger boys who don't have bikes ride his bike to practice their riding skills.



Read about our first stop on the Central America Trip: Visit To Panama

Friday, October 3, 2014

Featured Volunteer: George Kurz

From our photo vault
"I think the bike collection is the most significant and effective volunteer project that this community sponsors."

Now that's the kind of feedback we love to hear at Bikes for the World! That quote came from a volunteer at the 2014 annual bike collection at Pennswood Village in Newtown Pennsylvania. And brings us to introduce this month's featured volunteer, George Kurz, who has managed that collection for the last eight years.

Pennswood is a unique and distinct collection point for BfW that broadens our reach and supports the community involvement set forth in our mission. Having a dedicated manager such as George overseeing the project has not only defined the success in terms of number of bikes but also in bringing together a community.

Nancy Worthington mentors student
Pennswood Village is a Quaker retirement community in Pennsylvania where George and his wife Elisabeth live. Each year the community teams up with George School and Newtown Friends School to host an annual bike drive with BfW.

Working together, students and members of the retirement community collect and prep bikes that will be donated overseas. It is one of many events at Pennswood Village, and judging by the number of participants (42, this year!) it appears to be a popular one.

"I know George going back almost two decades, when he served on the board of the non-profit I worked for at the time. We lost touch when he left the board. But two years after I founded Bikes for the World, George "found" me, and since that time has been an energetic and conscientious part of Bikes for the World, " Director Keith Oberg.

Over the years, Pennswood Village has had incredible success with the collection in Newtown. Since 2007 George has overseen the collection and processing of just under 1,000 bikes that have been donated to Bikes for the World. Many of this year's bikes will be loaded next week in a container heading to our partner in Ghana, Africa, Village Bicycle Project.

But it is not George alone contributing to the success of this collection. As mentioned, in 2014, the Pennswood collection had 42 volunteers, many of whom were residents of the community. Volunteers distributed publicity, picked up bikes beforehand, and prepared the tax receipts for donors. They put in over 200 hours on this project alone.

George is a retired ophthalmologist who practiced in New Jersey and was a clinical professor of ophthalmology at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. He has taught in Africa, China, Ecuador, and the Philippines and knows very well how important an affordable bike can be to rural communities in developing countries.

"I have come to know, and enjoy working with, the individuals recruited by George to the the Pennswood organizing committee, given the consistent and high degree of organization and commitment, " Oberg reflects.

Looking ahead, "the Pennswood collection has allowed us to 'wave the Bikes for the World flag' in the greater Philadelphia metro area and lay the groundwork for more work in the future. We will be participating in the Philly Bike Expo on November 8-9, 2014 and hope to build on this foundation. We have also had bikes coming in to Pennswood from volunteers, such as Keith and Andrew (and now younger brother Luke) Grover, and donors in central NJ."

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Central America Trip: Panama

La Asociación Panameña de Industrias de Buena Voluntad (Goodwill Panama) is one of Bikes for the World's oldest partners having been with us from the start in 2005. Since that time BfW has donated almost 20,000 bikes to support the program. That's 20% of our total bikes donated through BfW over the years.

Bikes donated by BfW are reconditioned in a Goodwill operated workshop, whose employees (managers, mechanics, and sales agents) are individuals with disabilities or are from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. The workshop provides income and skills training to employees while providing low-income workers and students with affordable transport. Reconditioned bikes are sold at affordable prices at Goodwill Panama's store in Panama City and through Rotary Clubs and other wholesalers throughout the country.



BfW Director Keith Oberg and Program Officer Kaila Clarke traveled to Panama in September and visited with Goodwill Panama. They met with staff members, bike beneficiaries, participants in the training program, and board members. The intent of the visit was to go over our memorandum of understanding and discuss ways we could improve our shipments to Goodwill Panama. The following are notes from this trip.

Goodwill Panama aims to enhance the dignity and quality of life of individuals and communities by eliminating barriers to opportunity and helping people in need to reach their fullest potential through the power of work. They provide comprehensive job training and placement to persons with disabilities and disadvantaged individuals in industries such as culinary arts janitorial/maintenance, textiles/sewing, packaging, gardening, cosmetology, ornamental blacksmithing and metallurgy, as well as computer courses.



The bicycle project is incorporated to Goodwill's metals training program. The program trains disadvantaged youth (ages 14-18) as well as other underprivileged individuals and/or persons with disabilities in a range of skills.

The program begins with  bicycle repair with participants learning the basics of bike mechanics and moving through more difficult repairs. At times they may fix or even create parts they need to make a bike or bike accessory work again. Guys enrolled in the metals training program then move onto three other phases of metal work, ending with welding.

Participants can earn scholarships at the end of each phase of the program and some are allowed to keep a bicycle for private use. Many who graduate from the program then receive help to find a full-time job using their new skills through the job placement program. Most end up being welders where they can earn more income for their families.



Angel is currently enrolled in the metals training program through Goodwill Panama. He learned how to work on bikes and repaired this bicycle himself. He continues to learn skills through the program.

His step father has a welding business and he hopes to someday join him in the business using the skills he is honing at Goodwill Panama.

The bike project funds 10% of the overall cost of the training program. Bikes repaired in the program are sold in the storefront to help support the project.