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.