Bikes for the World

Friday, December 4, 2015

Featured Volunteer: Andrew Williamson

It's not often you can catch Santa Claus out of that red suit, but in the middle of summer in DC it can get quite hot. That's when we got this shot of Andy Williamson as he dropped by our warehouse to pick up more bikes for kids in Kentucky.

For poor families in the middle of Appalachia Andy is absolutely like the Bike Santa...and unlike the guy from the North Pole, Andy delivers twice a year!

Working with his Kiwanis group out of Waldorf Maryland, Andy and group of mechanical helpers take donated kids bikes from Bikes for the World and they fix them up at his home in MD. This requires some tools, sweat, and quite a bit of fundraising to buy supplies to replace busted seats, flat tires, and rusty chains. It ain't easy playing Santa.

A young boy in Kentucky excited about his new bike
But it only takes one look into those little eyes to see why he's so passionate about doing it. "If I make a difference in one life I'm making a big difference," said Andy when interviewed on TV last year.

It's also our motto at Bikes for the World, changing lives one bike a time. Andy took that and ran...all the way to Kentucky where the statewide poverty rates are staggering. Last year, over 31,000 school aged kids were homeless.

Families in Kentucky are affected weekly by new lay offs stemming from closing mines. Power companies are shuttering, the trucking industry is impacted. Retail down. Many families cannot afford food and rely on community food pantries. School supplies, clothes, and especially bikes are way down on their shopping lists.

A young volunteer in DC helps load bikes to be donated
Back in DC, our generous donors give us thousands of kids bikes, many that aren't suited for our overseas programs. The Waldorf Kiwanis have been collecting bikes for Bikes for the World for over a decade and came to us with this project run through Thankful Hearts in Pikeville.

That was last year. Since then Bikes for the World has donated over 550 bikes to this domestic program. All of them passing through Andy's workshop before he drives them down to Pikeville for these very thankful kids. It's Andy and his team that makes this donation possible, delivering smiles to hundreds of kids every year.

 If you can get Andy to stop for a second he is probably still busy telling you about the kids and families affected through this program. He has a supply of photos on his phone he will swipe through and still remember every story, every smile.

Jenniffer Matter brought her daughter to the give away last year for school supplies, which are also given out during the event. She said it's a relief to know where those items are coming from because they don't have the money to buy them.

"Whether it's a smile or a quarter it makes a difference."

Dad so thankful his girls received bikes he couldn't afford
Coordinator Trissia Scott works with Thankful Hearts Food Pantry and helps raise funds for Andy to fix and deliver the bikes twice a year.

"We believe these bikes not only relieve stress, they help with health, promoting wellness, and fighting childhood obesity," Trissia Scott.

Parents and teachers agree. Giving kids an outlet after school where they don't have to worry and can go and just have fun riding a bike is a huge lift on their spirits. Parents also say they can use the bike as leverage to get that homework done quickly so the kids can go out and ride.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Health Challenges and Solutions

In our last post we touched on the importance a mother's health has on her family. Often times important decisions are made regarding health care and wellness visits due to time restraints, distance, and the expensive cost of transportation.

Another practice that has a significant impact on a woman's health is commonly known as head loading in Africa. Carrying heavy loads of firewood, clean water, or baskets of cassava causes severe trauma to the neck and back. Pregnant women are often overburdened in these tasks which are mostly carried out by women and young girls. A bicycle equipped with a sturdy rack increases carrying capacity and also allows a woman to travel faster over a further distance, saving valuable energy and time.

Harriet is able to carry more water safely on her bike rack
 For one of our newest projects, the bicycle is already improving the lives of mothers and their newborns in Guinea-Bissau. Our bike project is helping to support a micro-finance effort run by the Global Fairness Initiative in Guinea-Bissau. Through bicycle sales and repairs the group is generating income that will be reinvested in their communities. The bikes themselves, however, are having an immediate impact:

A mother in Guinea-Bissau transports her baby to the clinic
"The feedback was great. Women are using them (the bikes) to take their babies to the clinic, kids are using them to get to school, and APLACOF (a local women's cooperative fighting hunger and poverty) has already made more than $8,000 US which will be put into their micro-finance fund so they can give more loans to the women in the association," Halima Gellman, Program Director Global Fairness Initiative

In our last post we also expressed a huge need for health care workers in rural areas in Africa. Many struggling clinics cite transportation as the biggest hindrance in keeping qualified health workers on staff and clinics open. In Madagascar, clinics rely on volunteer Community Health Workers (CHW) to do much of the transport work necessary to keep families healthy.

Frederic (seen below) is the President of COSAN (health committee) and Emergency Transport. He is also a big part of the bike program established in Menabe, West Madagascar, to ensure bike parts and repairs are easily accessible to the Community Health Care Workers. Providing bikes and services in the community serve as motivation for these volunteers to help make their efforts more productive and rewarding, bringing health care to a much needed area.

Photographer: Robin Hammond/Panos for JSIMAHEFA Program, USAID 
"The bicycles that are given to CHWs are allowing them to travel further, to visit more families, to hit their health targets and perhaps most importantly it is a valuable motivation for them. I have spoken to doctors who told me the CHWs with bicycle are the highest performing. I was last in Madagascar during Polio Vaccination Week and I could see CHWs on bikes returning to health facilities with their coolers to get the next batch of vaccines. You can imagine the difference mobility makes with temperature controlled vaccines and lines of children waiting for the health worker to arrive," Caroline Barber Head of Programmes Transaid.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Mobilizing Health Care

Yaw Teobol uses his bike to carry
clean water back to his family
In rural Africa, a bicycle is the momentum behind economic development.  A bicycle can deliver goods faster over a greater distance saving time and energy. It can be used to haul four times as much produce or other goods to market or the home, making trips more efficient and lucrative.

The lack of affordable transportation has a direct impact on the quality of life for the poor. The inability to leave a small, rural community severely impacts access to greater opportunity. Two thirds of villagers travel by foot, many spending hours a day walking to clean water sources, markets, and health care clinics.

The obstacle of distance compounded by the lack of transportation and poor roads creates an unbalanced healthcare challenge for many poor Africans struggling to escape poverty. Fewer than 50% of Africans have access to modern medical facilities.
A nurse in Ghana learns to ride a bicycle.
Her bike will allow her to see more patients daily.

Establishing qualified clinics within these small villages is a challenge. Working with limited financial resources makes it difficult for community leaders to come up with a workable sustainable program to protect the well being of their families.

Many rural clinics lack the resources to provide quality care on a daily basis. Qualified nurses often cannot afford to work for the wages offered through these programs. Many nurses cite transportation as the leading cause for leaving a job shortly after accepting it.  When the medical professional quits, the clinic is forced to close.

Over 50% of all Africans live more than four miles from a health facility. It can cost a month's wages for a poor person to hire a motorcycle to take them to a clinic. They, then, have no money left to pay for the drugs necessary to treat their illnesses.

Women often sacrifice pre- and post- natal care endangering the lives of themselves and their children. In an effort to reduce child and maternal mortality, many communities stress the importance of obstetric care.

Obstacles such as poor roads, no cars, and cost can be overcome with one simple solution: a bicycle.  In Ghana and Sierra Leone Village Bicycle Project focuses on empowering women and girls with bicycles to also break education barriers.

"When a school girl can have a bicycle this helps her stay in school longer. Studies have found the longer a girl stays in school, the longer she waits to have children. This increases the healthiness of her life and her children's lives. And so, her life is improved and her children's lives are improved," Dave Peckham Director Village Bicycle Project.

Community Health Worker Zondia Helena Nirisoa
Courtesy: Robin Hammond/Panos
In Madagascar, a community based health system was established to address many of the issues identified above. Bikes donated through Bikes for the World to Transaid in Madagascar are helping to fund this program. The bike project is being run in part by the Community Health Workers who refurbish bikes and sell them to local people at a low cost. Many nurses are also using bikes to attend to patients who live further away from the clinic.

Community Health Workers aim to have effective community participation and supportive community institutions to sustain medical professionals and reinforce healthy home behaviors.  They are also working on maternal, newborn and child health by ensuring high quality primary health care services provided by Community Health Workers. The program aims to increase access to clean drinking water and improved sanitation facilities as well as personal hygiene improvements.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Spotlight on Kenya: Kibera and Mathare

Mathare Valley slum
Nairobi is the capital of Kenya and its largest city. It is the hub of activity for much of Kenya and is sadly surrounded by some of the world's largest slums.

To the northeast is Mathare Valley, one of the country's oldest and worst slums. To the southwest is Kibera, the largest urban slum in all of Africa.

Lack of activities and alcoholism create dangers among residents
Over the past decade, conditions in both areas have improved but residents continue to struggle. Unemployment, lack of education, unsanitary living conditions, drugs and violence and health issues plague this community daily.

In Kibera, for example, until recent years, there was very little electric, no source of clean water, and no sanitary facilities located within the community. This is also common in Mathare Valley. In both slum communities the unemployment rate is upwards of 50% with the majority of actual workers earning less than $1 a day.

Many young students are forced to drop out of school because they cannot afford school fees or manage the long commutes to their classrooms. Many are called upon to help care for their families.

Youth as young as 8 years-old often become the head of household when parents die of AIDS. One out of three adults is living with HIV/AIDS and has a life expectancy after contracting the disease of five years.

Water source contaminated with waste and garbage
There are no hospitals or government clinics within the boundaries of the slums. Much of the health care is offered through charitable organizations or churches who struggle to inform the community of safe health care practices. Many residents are afflicted by dysentery, malnutrition, malaria, typhoid, cholera, infections, tetanus, or polio. Many of the health issues are due to the unsanitary conditions rampant throughout the slum.

It is not uncommon to find one public toilet available to 50-100 people. In Mathare Valley this shared toilet facility is not free and therefore many people are still not using it. Much of the human waste, even from the pit toilets, ends up in the Nairobi river, which serves as a main water source for both slums.

Garbage litters the streets and surrounding areas causing many unsanitary living conditions. Garbage collection and clearing storm drains are two of the main jobs within slum boundaries. Many people head to the city of Nairobi looking for work but with no education, long commutes, and little pay, many end up back at the slum unemployed.

 Providing strong sustainable programs remains a priority for many groups working in this area. Others, like Maji Mazuri are focused on educating and taking care of the youth, many orphaned from AIDS.
Over the past decade, infrastructure is slowly coming to both Kibera and Mathare, bringing roads, pipes with clean water, and slowly, more stable homes.

Bikes for the World supports projects in both Kibera and Mathare through Kenyan partner Wheels of Africa. Our bikes supplied by Wheels of Africa and Maji Mazuri are helping to build a better community within these overcrowded slums.

Youth project beneficiaries with Maji Mazuri
Wheels of Africa supplies a local bike shop within the boundary of Kibera with bikes and parts to bring affordable transportation to this community. Read more about Francis Owino and how he is bringing change to Kibera through a successful sustainable business.

Wheels of Africa also donated many bikes to Maji Mazuri, a Nairobi based non-profit focused on serving individuals living in the surrounding slums. Our donated bikes are helping students who participate in Maji Mazuri's youth program in Mathare attend school. The bikes provide affordable transportation to students allowing them to stay in school where they learn valuable life and professional skills that will impact them and help bring about positive change to their families and the community.

Photo Courtesy: Mazi Mazuri

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Featured Volunteer: The Grovers

The Grovers
The idea here was that we would honor Luke Grover as our Featured Volunteer this month. But to quote his family, "this is a family affair", so it's only fair to honor the whole family.

Seen here is Luke in the back, Mom Michele, and Dad Keith. Missing is Andrew who is busy studying pre-med at Duke University. The family lives in New Jersey where they collect and store bikes for Bikes for the World.

Just last month, however, they got to add 'loading'  to their volunteer resume. With our growing effort really taking off in Long Island we are hoping to see more and more of this committed family.

Andrew Grover
This started with older brother Andrew who introduced Bikes for the World to the family.  Andrew 'found' BfW through John Hopkins University, Director Keith Oberg's Alma Mater. Andrew attended a recognition event in New York for John Hopkins Center for Talented Youth, which he was then part of.

There, they showed a JHU produced video about alumnus Keith Oberg and the work he was doing with the non-profit he founded, Bikes for the World. Andrew was immediately interested in the program and contacted us to find out how he could get involved.

Keith O and Keith G started talking and worked out an arrangement where the Grovers would collect and hold bikes in New Jersey until BfW could arrange to pick them up.

Plong and Keith G
Back at our DC headquarters, BfW would connect donors near this Tinton Falls location.  Annually, the Grovers were collecting several dozen bikes, which were sometimes delivered by the Grovers to a collection location at Pennswood Village each fall outside Philadelphia.

One NJ donor, Plong, is originally from Bohol, Philippines and was moved to want to contribute to our newest project in 2012 that was delivering bikes to students in his homeland. We connected Plong with the Grovers and bikes he collected are now with students in Bohol.

Luke worked side by side with is brother Andrew learning how to prep bikes and finding a passion to make a difference around the world.

Luke Grover
When Andrew left for Duke last year, Luke contacted us and told us he was his younger brother and wanted to continue his family's effort. An injury sidelined him last winter but he re-initiated contact with us in the spring ready to keep the wheels turning.

Keith O. worked with the family to connect them with our growing effort just getting off the ground in New York. Area coordinator, Larry Silverman was putting together a network to collect, store, and ship bikes from our first established 'spin off' location. We hoped to divert bikes they collect north to this effort rather than driving them down I-95 to our DC location. This will also help build excitement as we grow this effort in New York.

James, Michele, Luke, Keith, Larry, Keith
This time, the Grovers left the bikes at home and loaded the family into the car to drive to the loading in New York last month. They met with Keith O. and Larry to lend a hand to complete the first ever container loading from this newest BfW location.

It was a long day and complex network of committed volunteers that made it all possible. BfW initiated many of the contacts but look for this group seen here above to continue moving this effort forward. You can read more about the New York loading on our website.

Friday, October 16, 2015

My Favorite Subject Is....

Village Bicycle Project (VBP) knows first hand how important a bicycle can be to a student in Ghana or Sierra Leone. We donate thousands of bicycles annually to Village Bicycle Project both in Ghana and Sierra Leone. In Sierra Leone, VBP operates a Bike Library that loans bikes to students to help them stay in school and graduate. Through their Learn 2 Ride program they are able to teach some students how to ride a bike for the very first time.

A recent report from VBP Director Dave Peckham indicates that some of these students are no longer using the bikes in their Bike Library. We see this as a very good problem to have, since some of the students below have already left the program since graduating high school!

ENGLISH Alusine  walks for an hour to school each morning with his younger brothers and sisters and is always eager for his English class, since he loves to read and write.  He plans to study English when he goes to college and wants to travel around the U.K., U.S., and South Africa before coming back to Sierra Leone to become an English teacher.   

He helps Educaid staff maintain the school grounds and his teachers say he is a big help with some of the younger children.

INTEGRATED SCIENCE Assan lives in a village called Mamalikie, which is about a two and a half hour walk from his school.  He lives with his mother and helps her take care of his five younger siblings. 

His favorite class is Integrated Science and he wants to go to university to study biology.  He loves science because he says he wants to “understand how the world works.”  He will use a VBP library bicycle to reach school every day and help him work on reaching his goals.

ART Fatamata is quick to laugh and loves fashion and art.  She lives with her brothers and sisters at her grandmother’s house, about a two hour walk away from her school. 

While she was participating in VBP’s Learn to Ride program, her older sister passed away from malaria.  Despite being devastated by the loss of her sister, Fatamata decided to only take a few days off from school because she knew her sister wanted her to succeed at school.  Fatamata is planning to go to college.

MATH Fatima is 20 and one of the older students in school. Fatima left school about ten years ago when the war broke out and her parents passed away.  To support herself and her brother, she learned how to be a seamstress from the Red Cross but never gave up on her hope to complete secondary school. 

With support from her aunt and the encouragement of teachers she re-enrolled in 2010 and loves being back in school.  She hopes to become an accountant some day and has especially enjoyed her math class.

PE Hawa lives in Rubeiki and has a 90 minute walk to school.  Physical education has always been her favorite subject in school, which isn’t surprising considering how quickly she picked up riding.

She lives with her mother and helps her on their farm after she gets home from school.  Hawa loves school and hopes to be a nurse some day but often feels afraid walking to school, since she walks alone.  By using one of our library bicycles she’ll be able to get to school faster and feel safer along the way.

BUSINESS Mamasu walks two and a half hours to reach school from her village, Bonline, where she lives with her parents and five siblings.  Mamasu likes her Business Studies class and wants to become a lawyer so she can support her family. 

She had never ridden a bicycle before she began the Learn to Ride program but picked it up quickly.  Mamasu is excited to start riding a bike to school so that she doesn’t have to be afraid of coming across snakes on her way to school anymore.

RELIGIOUS STUDIES Margaret  lives with her father, grandmother, five brothers, and four sisters. Her house is about a three hour walk away from her school.  She loves reading and her favorite class is her Religious Studies class. 

Before starting the Learn to Ride program, she felt nervous about trying to ride a bike on some of the busy streets around Lunsar. After a little practice on the obstacle course she now feels more prepared. 

CHEMISTRY Mariatu loves studying science, Chemistry in particular.  Since both of her parents passed away a few years ago, she lives with her grandmother and is the oldest of 8 children. 

It takes her two hours to walk to school every morning and she can’t wait to use one of VBP’s bikes in the fall.  By ensuring that Mariatu will have faster transportation to school, the VBP bicycle library at her school is doing a small part toward helping her reach her dream of being a doctor someday.   

LANGUAGE ARTS Mariama has been deaf and mute since birth and communicates with her teachers and fellow students using writing and gestures.  Since American Sign Language is not widely used in Sierra Leone, Mariama’s resourcefulness (and patience!) is tested daily as she completes her schoolwork.  

She is extremely determined to succeed in school.  Language Arts is her favorite class and she thinks she might want to be a writer some day. More than anything, she wants to travel, though, so she can see the world.


Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Francis Owino: Fixing Bikes, Creating Jobs

Francis Owino rides his bike six miles to work every day, saving himself an hour by avoiding traffic.  He is the father of 7 children and helps support three nieces and nephews. Francis is making sure all ten kids are in school and getting an education by paying their school fees.

Francis grew up on the western end of Kenya, moved to Nairobi, and eventually started his own business in Kibera. His mother sold fish to support her family and ensure her kids got a good education, something Francis is passing on to the next generation. Francis graduated primary school and went on to polytechnic school where he studied his passion, tailoring.

After graduation, Francis moved to Nairobi to chase his dreams and make a better living. However, he was only able to find a job selling used clothing. Francis focused on making hats but only made about three cents per hat. Undeterred but needing a better job, he ended up moving to Makina, Kibera to help a friend repair bikes.

His friend taught him the complex skills involved in bike mechanics. After about six months, Francis went out to start his own bike shop. He began fixing bikes and selling used tubes and tires, which was about all he could afford to buy at the time. For 20 years Francis struggled to survive, taking out loans to help buy bikes to repair and sell.

This past year, Francis met Wheels of Africa and life took a turn for the better. He is now able to buy more bikes at a cheaper price, turning a bigger profit for his shop. He employs three full time mechanics on a regular basis and up to eight part timers on the weekends when the shop is extremely busy.

"Meeting Wheels of Africa has been a total lifestyle change for me," says Francis. He no longer needs to take loans and has money to rent a stable shop that creates jobs for people in Makina. In addition to the lower prices offered at Wheels of Africa, the bikes are of a higher quality than he can get elsewhere. This draws a crowd, keeping Francis's shop busy, and customers happy.

Many of the bikes sold in Francis's bike shop are used for transportation in Kibera. Kibera is the largest slum in Nairobi and the largest urban slum in Africa. One fifth of Nairobi's population lives within the slum of Kibera. As roads are built in a effort to clean up the slum, bikes are becoming an important transportation tool.

Francis also works to teach kids and beginners how to ride a bike. "Mungu Aibariki (God Bless) Wheels of Africa," beams Francis.

Post contributed in part by Dorcas and Patrick of Wheels of Africa.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Featured Volunteer: Nathan Cross

This guy. This guy is a valuable part of the Bikes for the World team. Meet Nathan Cross, debonair cyclist, committed volunteer, mechanic, and accomplished component recycler. Nathan strips parts off bikes that are shipped to our overseas partner mechanics. Those mechanics are using those valuable parts to put your old bikes back together, fixing them up to become valuable modes of transportation for work, school, and medical purposes.

The bottom line is you donated your bike to us for a reason. Often, that reason is the bike needs a tune up or sometimes major repairs. While our recipient partners would probably love to open a container and have all the bikes inside be in perfect working order, that's just never the case.

And that's not a bad thing. Many of the groups we partner with in Africa and Central America have sustainable programs in place that help employ local workers and empower businesses. Our donated bikes are distributed throughout many communities by our partners and put into the hands of local shop owners who were often trained by the same organizations. Our partners find entrepreneurs in remote villages and offer bike mechanic skills training to help them start thriving businesses.

 Over the past year Bikes for the World has made a huge effort to get more and more spare parts to these small remote bike shops to help those mechanics repair your old bikes and keep them in good working order.

Guys like Nathan help us make that possible. Several times a month he'll ride in on his bike from work to help us attack the mountain of junk bikes we have in the back corner. A 'junk bike' may be a frame that is bent or broken that still has good quality used parts on it. Rather than take that to the recycling center as is, we want to salvage as many workable parts as possible to be included in our containers donated overseas.

Nathan says he has no formal training, just tinkering with his own bikes from the time he was a kid. He's an avid cyclist who was looking to volunteer in Arlington. He wanted to make a difference and he was looking for a hands-on, physical activity and found us. Lucky us!

"I really enjoy the time spent in the warehouse, it feels great to be doing something I love and helping people in other parts of the world. Seeing the photos of shipping containers being opened by excited recipients is especially gratifying," says Nathan. He's proud of the work he is doing and it shows. And we all love to see the results of that work once those rescued components arrive overseas.

Edgardo- El Salvador
On the other side, meet Edgardo. Edgardo is learning to do what Nathan does, in reverse. When our bikes arrive overseas they need to be reassembled and tuned up. Many or our recipient partners either work with local bike shop owners or run programs on site employing mechanics who refurbish your old donated bikes.

For Edgardo this process has more than one component. He is part of CESTA in El Salvador, one of our dozen regular partners. CESTA works with at risk youth to help guide them to better futures and keep them safe from dangerous gangs.

Edgardo uses his bicycle to get to the shop and to school. At the shop he is learning valuable skills like how to tune a bicycle and do minor repairs. He also enjoys participating in the conflict resolution programs CESTA offers in addition to the hands on bike workshop.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Mirriam Odura: An Outspokin' Woman

"My name is Mirriam Odura. I am a mechanic."

Mirriam is 33 years old. She is a mother, daughter, singer, athlete, advocate, role model, mechanic, business owner...simply put, Mirriam is a champion. She is also physically challenged. She is changing attitudes about what being 'dis'-abled means.

"She doesn't seem to be handicapped," says Mirriam's father. She has always wanted to explore, has always been adventurous. He said, "I cannot discourage her from anything." When she puts her mind to something she goes after it.

And that's just what she did in her career. When Bikes Not Bombs began the idea of a cooperative bike shop in Koforidua they reached out to disabled Ghanaians looking for a staff to not only run the shop, but own it. Mirriam approached BNB's David Branigan and said, "I want to be part of this program." And Ability Bikes was born.

Mirriam joined David and a team of aspiring mechanics to learn more about bikes and running a local bike shop. When David asked her to true a wheel she initially bent the rim. It was a complete failure. All the guys laughed at her. But then she tried again and nailed it. She was a natural.

After that, those same male mechanics came to Mirriam and asked her to help them true their rims. She said, "You are sitting there laughing at me. You want me to help you? I won't do that!" But she did. And now when a customer comes in needing a wheel repair or rebuild, the guys all point to Mirriam. She is the best wheel builder in Koforidua. She just happens to be a woman. And 'dis'-abled. Whatever that means. It certainly doesn't stop her.

African men come in the shop with a wheel or a bike looking for a mechanic. The last thing they expect is to find that in a woman. They may be skeptical when meet her, but the bottom line is she can do something they can't do themselves. They all leave with a well tuned bicycle and a different attitude.

Being part of Ability Bikes has given Mirriam a respectable job and an important place in the community. She now has valuable skills that are very needed and respected in her community. She is inspiring to youth and adults. She represents physically challenged Ghanaians as a strong advocate. Even non-physically challenged women look up to her when it comes to learning a skill and being courageous in life. She is proud of her work. She is happy. In this male dominated field, Mirriam is a true champion.

Bikes for the World is shipping our fourth container to this project in October 2015. Mirriam may be fixing your old wobbly wheel in 2016! You can learn more about Mirriam in the video below.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Featured Volunteer: Johnson Lambert LLP

Johnson Lambert LLP
This month we recognize a team of 'volunteers' unlike any other. Johnson Lambert LLP is an accounting firm that has not only gotten their hands dirty in our warehouse but also dug deep in our office sorting through papers and figures to keep us on financial track.

This team at Johnson Lambert LLP, with help from their Fairfax VA and Raleigh NC offices, prepared on a pro bono basis, the Bikes for the World audit and IRS 990 report 2012-2014. More than simply making sure that our donors' resources have been properly stewarded - the team's assistance has enabled us to improve our operational efficiency and effectiveness through better financial management and compliance with federal and local jurisdiction.

Our relationship with the Johnson Lambert team goes back to 2012, when one of the company's younger employees, Emily Powell, began volunteering on her own with BfW. Enthused by our mission, Emily brought our team-building activities to the attention of the company's management when it was considering corporate volunteer opportunities. In June of that year, Emily brought a Johnson Lambert team of more than 20 individuals  to our warehouse in Lorton, where they prepped bikes and loaded a container for Costa Rica.

In September, Emily's senior colleague, Partner Audrey Newton, contacted BfW to explore the possibility of offering pro bono audit and related services. Within a few months arrangements were in place for a Johnson Lambert team to provide a full financial and operations audit, along with preparations of the IRS form 990 for 2012.

The first year's work took place beginning in July 2013 and extended into the fall. This was before BfW moved into our Arlington office and the JL team descended on Keith's dining room table and took over a quarter of his downstairs. Now in 2015, we are established in an office and with the improvements made to our record keeping, many at the recommendation of JL, the process has gone much more quickly and efficiently.

We are extremely grateful to Johnson Lambert LLP for its support, and in particular to Managing Partner Debbie Lambert and the team members who lent their support and expertise to this effort. Doing pro bono work is a very generous gesture on the part of the company, and is not without considerable costs. To be able to offer these services, the company schedules them during the summer months traditionally the least-pressured season. And while assigning a senior Partner as overall responsible manager, the company also uses the work for staff professional development, as a training and skill-building exercise for younger employees.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Spotlight on Alajuela Costa Rica

Continuing with our series on Costa Rica, we visit the province of Alajuela. Alajuela is situated in the north central portion of Costa Rica. Although this province lacks the beautiful coastline that typically draws tourists to the country, it still boasts a visually stunning landscape

Within the boundaries of Alajuela one can find stunning waterfalls, a topiary wonderland in Francisco Alvarado park, a colorful array of flora and fauna, and lush rain forests. Perhaps the biggest attraction is one of  Costa Rica's largest active volcanoes, Arenal, which watches over the province.

Nestled within the rolling countryside of this flourishing area is the heart of Costa Rican rural life. Steep, winding roads steer away from traffic and crowded cities such as San José, immersing one into some of the country's richest farmland. Soil rich from the volcanic ash surrounding the area brings thriving crops of oranges, pineapple, yucca, and sugar cane.

Tourists can buy rambutan from small roadside vendors without leaving the car or by visiting the larger commercial marketplaces in more populated areas. These markets bustle with local farmers and vendors selling their products brought from farther away homes and farms. Fruits, veggies, even fine leather products like belts and saddles are sold in these community markets.

Benigno Melendez
Through our partner FINCA Costa Rica/MiBici, Bikes for the World donates bikes to the small communities that make up Alajuela. Each container shipped often serves multiple communities. Bikes and parts are divided up among the groups and transported back to their members.

These bikes provide much needed, affordable transportation to farmers and merchants who need to travel many miles to reach the bigger markets to sell their home-grown products. Our bikes save them time and money by getting them to market faster and with more product to sell.

The canton of Upala has a busy commercial marketplace where small local farmers can make a decent living selling fresh fruits and vegetables. Bicycles are the most important mode of transportation in the remote villages within Upala. Benigno (above) uses his bike to travel to market four times faster and with the added basket on the back can haul four times as much produce to sell, which benefits his family greatly.

Bikes are also used by many of the children going to school in Upala. Eight-year-old Kevin (right) just received his bike in June. His mom, Yorleny travels to school with him every day. A trip that used to take over a half hour now takes only 10 minutes.

San Carlos
San Carlos stretches from the epicenter of San José to the border of Nicaragua. It is the largest canton in Alajuela. Volcán Arenal is located here and with it comes the rich soil fueled by volcanic ash, making it a fruitful agricultural center. Coffee and tubers, like cassava, are widely produced here.

In addition to helping members complete errands faster and assisting vendors with added carrying capacity, our bikes are helping students commute to school faster and stay in school. In one particular village only 35 members have acquired a college degree. They are expecting the percentage of graduates to decrease in upcoming years due to the high drop out rate in elementary and secondary schools. Many families cite high transportation costs as the reason for pulling kids out of school. Bringing bikes to these villages is increasingly important to help families and communities continue to thrive.

Spotlight Guanacaste

Spotlight Talamanca