Bikes for the World

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Upala Stands Strong Against Otto

When Bikes for the World visited Costa Rica in 2014 we dropped in on two community groups who had recently received bikes donated through BfW. One of those groups was EC Canalete located in Upala.

Like many rural communities in Costa Rica, Canalete is made up of modest homes with many generations living under one roof. Family members often come together to pool resources to help care for aging adults or young children.

 Canalete is a tight knit village tucked away from the bustle of the main drag.  Schools are within walking distance to many of the homes. They have small mom and pop markets, clothing stores; some members even make their own clothing or toys with sewing machines also donated through BfW.

BfW visit to Canalete 2014
It's a quiet little oasis surrounded by small water sources and pineapple fields. Rambutan grows wild and kids pick the fruit to eat and sell along the roadside to tourists and locals alike.

We saw kids riding our bikes in the streets. We met a man who uses a robust tricycle to transport fish and fruit to market to sell. We saw families coming together to help one another using our bikes for work and fun. We met families who struggle to make ends meet and paid great fares to use public transportation. Once they could afford a bicycle they started pocketing that bus fare and using it for food or school books or medications for an elderly parent.

Our partner Grupo FINCA makes this all possible. They work within these community groups to help establish credit and funds to build those small enterprises within their towns and help small struggling communities thrive.

Our bikes not only help residents get around and carry more sellable items to market, but they also help the groups raise capital to support many of those other activities and businesses.

Volunteers from Reed Tech load container for Costa Rica
Since 2005, BfW has donated nearly 25,000 bikes to Grupo FINCA in Costa Rica. FINCA then sees to the delivery of the bikes, sometimes in smaller lots, to many community groups scattered across the entire country. Since they started work in Upala, FINCA has placed more than 1,500 bikes in the community.

In October, working with Reed Tech, BfW loaded and sent a container of bikes heading to this same community group we visited in Upala in 2014. Those bikes arrived early last week, then Hurricane Otto came to town. The port was shut down, with our bikes still unloaded, residents asked to evacuate, and Upala hunkered down for the storm. Upala was one of the hardest hit communities in Otto's path.

Upala November 2016
This weekend Grupo FINCA sent a team out to check on EC Canalete in Upala. Fortunately no FINCA clients were injured or killed. Many, however, did sustain damages to their homes.

After the storm, there were many trees down, electricity out, but most of the damage was from all the rain that fell. Nearly as much rain fell in two hours as the region receives in a month and half. Rivers overflowed and mud swelled into homes destroying much of what was in its way.

One bike beneficiary named Mari has seen in a television interview after the storm passed. She recounted evacuating her home the night of the hurricane, leaving nearly everything behind. A neighbor helped her escape even as the water was rising.

In the morning she went back to find almost everything was a complete loss. The house was filled with water and mud and she even had to contend with three snakes slithering in her kitchen. She saw her bikes sitting in the muck and tried to pull them out along with a few wet clothing items. She said she knew the bikes would be okay because they were good quality bikes.  After the tearful interview Mari and her son got on their bikes and rode away.

Canalete last weekend
FINCA reports that most of their beneficiaries had only minor damages in their homes. At least 150 beneficiaries, however, reported serious damage in either their homes and/or businesses. Efforts to remove the mud and rebuild what was lost started immediately with everyone pitching in to help.

The downtown area looked much the same, where many more businesses are located. There are rivers and streams surrounding the area and when the rains came everything flooded.

The community hall slated to be the bike warehouse for our container of bikes waiting in port was taken over by the Red Cross as an operations center. Upala has shifted gears to rebuild the community and infrastructure that was destroyed in the storm.

FINCA will now place the bikes with a community group in San Carlos instead. They hope to be able to send another shipment of bikes to Upala in 2017 once the town regains solid footing.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Covering a lot of Ground

More students. More bikes. This month marks another turnover of bikes for Bikes for the Philippines.

The latest group of students pedaling their way to class is from Lourdes High School on the island of Bohol, Philippines where the project first began in 2011.

Since that time, Bikes for the Philippines (BfP) has expanded to over a dozen school districts on all three island groups of the Philippines, with even more new schools slated for 2017.

Since BfP joined forces with the Department of Education, the Bikes for Education program really gained momentum. With DepEd behind the effort to bring bikes to students, the all-volunteer team behind BfP could barely keep up.

All donated bikes coming from Bikes for the World are inventoried and repaired by a dedicated team of volunteers in the main warehouse in Manila.  From there bikes are transported to schools up and down the island chain. What originally began on Bohol is now spreading across the nation.

While this is ultimately what the organization hoped for, the expansion brings plenty of challenges...all of which BfP is up for and figuring out. The growing impact is also strengthening the program as well as making better use of the shipments coming from BfW.

With the new school additions, came new terrain, making more of the bikes donated from the US useful to the program. Previously only mountain bikes were being used in some of the more mountainous areas. BfP has also expanded to include all ages of riders.

This past two years, BfP expanded to its first elementary school (Sto. Nino Baloc Elementary School) making use of smaller bikes. The first urban school (Regional Lead School for the Arts in Angono) started using road bikes for beneficiaries.

Moving the program to Luzon brought a lot of attention to the Bikes for Education program. Media coverage and visits to the more accessible schools introduced this successful idea to more supporters and corporate partners.

BfP is now partnered with DepEd to support their popular Pedals and Paddles Program to help students with difficult commutes to school. They have also found support through sponsors such as Metrobank, San Miguel, and Mitsubishi.

But boots on the ground, continues to impede progress. It's tough to keep so many schools rolling with so many miles and bodies of water in between. Like many of our other rural projects, BfP also struggles with the simple task of communication. Internet connectivity among the schools varies greatly throughout the Philippines. Each school budget also varies and possibly affects the quality and amount of equipment necessary to report back to BfP.

Barry is a teacher and bike coordinator
In an effort to combat this issue, BfP now requires each school district participating in the program to identify a bike coordinator who will be reporting back to BfP. The coordinators will be making sure the program is implemented properly, students receive the required training, and the overall success of the program continues to be measured.

As we saw in our African programs focused on volunteer health workers, motivation among volunteers needs to be addressed and efforts rewarded to ensure the success of the model. BfP is now working on incentives to inspire these volunteers.

The proper implementation of the program is very reliant on the reports of these bike coordinators. Bikes are issued to hand selected beneficiaries who struggle financially and live a great distance from school.

Support of the program within the school itself is essential but difficult to monitor from afar. BfP is now looking to ensure continued success of the program by training and supporting these bike coordinators at every school enrolled in the Pedals and Paddles Program.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Namibian eBox: OKafitu and the Ekandjo Family

Hilya and Lazarus Ekandjo
The Okafitu Bicycle Shop is one of the more difficult eBoxes to get to in Namibia. It is located in the heart of the commonly known area Owamboland and you won't find any street signs pointing the way, just locally known trees that highlight the route.

But that's just what makes this shop so significant. Accessibility. It was established to help local people gain access and to bikes and help them maintain them. Without this shop, people were forced to travel great distances just to find parts and mechanics.

Hilya by the work bench
Until Hilya Ekandjo changed all that. Back in 2005 Hilya was chosen to take part in an exchange program that took her to London. "I was so excited to go out of the country! It was a dream come true," beams Hilya.

In London is where she first learned about bikes. A year later back home, she was graduating from BEN Namibia's bike mechanic training. She enthusiastically returned to her village hoping to share this new skill with everybody who was interested. She has since trained dozens and dozens of people in mechanics.

When she first asked who wanted to learn, she was surprised who answered. "Only women showed up. There was only one man interested," Hilya reported. After some time, she became known in town and soon, "if a bicycle has a problem, they would bring it here for me to fix it."

Like father, like daughter
This Okafitu shop is really a booming family business.  Before BEN Namibia even established the shop in Owamboland, Hilya was busy training home based care volunteers who were involved in her father's church program that reached out to HIV/AIDS patients.

Lazarus Ekandjo is a priest with the Okafitu Parish of the Anglican Church. Father and daughter worked hand in hand to help provide care to residents in the community suffering from HIV/AIDS. Through Father Ekandjo's church program, health care volunteers were identified and offered training, using Hilya's new bike mechanic skills.

"Volunteers have to be able to maintain their bikes in good condition, otherwise they may have no money to pay for the service and this may keep them from doing their jobs correctly," said Hilya.

Beata Ekandjo
While Hilya trained and excelled as a mechanic originally, she quickly took over as shop manager. The success of the shop brought great fortune to the community and provided transportation and repair services to a very remote region.

Beata Ekandjo, Hilya's sister, now manages the shop that Hilya started in 2006. They continue to sell bikes and do repairs, but they also sell items like solar systems to bring electricity to this unplugged community.

Seeing a need for a bigger more stable place to retail these solar lighting systems, Hilya used capital from the original eBox set up to start making bricks. She was able to build a new house and start construction on a new, permanent building for her businesses.

She and her father eventually created a brick-making business to help build a solid foundation for this community. Before, construction was often stymied when workers waited for bricks to be delivered from Outapi. This often delayed projects six months or more. Now, the bricks are made right in their own community, without delivery delay or charges.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Namibian eBox: Uukumwe

Bicycles for Humanity supported eBox Uukumwe
Now that we've established where the Malagasy eBox model came from we've been taking a closer look at some of those initial entrepreneurial bike shops in Namibia.

The first BEN Namibia eBox started in 2006 and the program has now expanded to include over 30 businesses spread across Namibia. They all began by fixing and selling bikes, but evolved to carry more products and support the community in many diverse ways.

TKMOAMs supports health initiatives and volunteers.  DEEP expanded by adding a computer workshop and Internet Cafe. Today we take a look at Uukumwe Bike Shop in Nkurenkuru, one of the northernmost shops in Namibia supported by BEN Namibia. Uukumwe also started by supporting health care initiatives and today continues to bring positive change to the community by helping to educate local kids.
Michael Linke and Markus Kasoma

Markus Kasoma was a home-based care volunteer for HIV-positive people in Nkurenkuru when he got involved with BEN Namibia. He would often travel more than 3 miles to reach patients. In a town with no public transportation and poor roads if any, villagers walked everywhere.

Laina is HIV-positive and a patient of Markus's. Markus would visit Laina once or twice a week to provide counseling, check in on her treatment, and to deliver more pills when needed.

Laina lived in extreme poverty with five other women and lots of children. "Many of them eat only once a day," reported Markus. Hunger is something he saw a lot during home visits. It was not unusual to find patients who had stopped taking their medications after fighting nausea from taking the pills on an empty stomach.

When BEN Namibia came to town in 2008 to help establish Uukumwe Bike Shop, Markus immediately signed up for training. He quickly learned the ins and outs of bike mechanics and became the shop manager. He split his time between Uukumwe and volunteering with the Red Cross.

Nkurenkuru Kindergarten
Now there are bikes everywhere in Nkurenkuru. And Uukumwe is extending a helping hand by using profits from the shop to make a difference in the community.

Many of the local eBoxes use proceeds from bike sales and repairs to help feed orphanages and affect the lives of children.

This kindergarten class receives support through Uukumwe. In fact, with the help of Bicycles for Humanity Colorado, a second container arrived that became a classroom for these students.
Gothard, Uukumwe Manager

Today Uukumwe is going strong. Gothard has taken over as the shop manager and continues the success built by Markus. Gothard was trained as a mechanic and assumed the new position when Markus moved on in 2012.

Markus followed his dream of joining the Namibian Police Force and is now a constable at the Nkurenkuru police station.

Many shop managers move on to accept bigger and better positions and Director of BEN Namibia, Michael Linke sees that as a positive thing. "With massive unemployment (27%) if you can run a bike shop well, you stand out to other potential employers, and the security of a government job or a well paid job in tourism is very appealing."

Passing the wrench on to the next mechanic is building a stronger Namibia. BEN trained mechanics go on to become maintenance workers, welders, and many other skilled laborers. The eBoxes continue to grow and expand, introducing new skills to new workers... and the cycle continues...

Friday, November 4, 2016

Namibian eBox: DEEP

Lavinia (DEEP) and Helalia (TKMOAMS)
DEEP (Disability Economic Empowerment Project) is an eBox situated in northern Namibia not far from the TKMOAMS eBox. And like TKMOAMS, DEEP was established nearly a decade ago and reaches far beyond bicycle mobility.

Lavinia Friedrich, finance manager at DEEP, and Helalia Shipinge, TKMOAMS manager, are seen here with solar powered lights for sale in their eBoxes. These micro-business bike shops, originally established to bring affordable transportation to rural Namibia, have flourished and evolved. Many eBoxes now offer a variety of products to ease rural living, many cycling related, but not all.

It is the success of these small businesses, capital raised and reinvested, and the skill set provided and honed under the eye of BEN Namibia, that have given these communities hope and purpose. Many eBox businesses reinvest not only in their shops, but also in their community, in their people.

DEEP mission: Changing attitudes and creating positive role models
DEEP, as the name implies, actually began with hope and purpose. The original idea was to develop a project for people with disabilities. To help bring rehabilitation and home care through bicycles. Before the project even saw its first bike, however, DEEP evolved into much more. Those individuals with disabilities were called on to run the business. They were trained to be mechanics, salespeople, financial officers.

Moses Tolata helped establish DEEP through BEN Namibia who helped open the shop in 2007. BEN Namibia provided training to mechanics, including Moses.

"This is the first time in my life that I have a permanent job. People think a disabled person can't do anything. You can have the same or even better skills as others, but people won't give the job to you," remembers Moses. But not since DEEP.

Lavinia Friedrich came on board with DEEP as the finance manager. When Lavinia was 14 she was carrying water in a container on her head. As she was returning to her village the container fell and struck her hip. When she went to the hospital for the pain she learned she had dislocated her hip and needed surgery. Four months later she was released from the hospital but walked with a limp.

Because of the discrimination against people with disabilities Lavinia struggled to find work before she found DEEP. She excelled in her position which propelled DEEP forward. Lavinia helped build DEEP from a busy bicycle shop into a thriving, diverse business. In recent years, through grant support, they were even able to add a computer training center and Internet cafe.

David, Moses, and Lavinia
David Ingo lost his leg when he was six years old. When he fell playing soccer he was injured when another boy stepped on his leg. At the hospital the doctors found a bruise on his shin that they believed could have been cancer. His family decided to amputate the leg to save David.

David was trained as a mechanic at DEEP where he worked when he wasn't studying computers. "I would like to study electrical engineering, and I'm saving money and studying at home to go to college," reported David back in 2009.

Last year we checked back in with DEEP. Moses was still there leading the team at the eBox and Lavinia was still in charge of finances. David followed his dream of continuing his education. He was taking classes to learn welding at a vocational school in hopes of returning to build bicycle racks at DEEP.

Unexpectedly last fall, we received word that Lavinia had passed away. From BEN Namibia:  "Lavinia was with the project from the beginning in 2007. Lavinia was a vibrant and dynamic person and showed her community that living with a disability is no barrier to achieving your dreams. Lavinia will be deeply missed by all of us at BEN Namibia. Our condolences to her family and colleagues at DEEP."

You can find DEEPs history along with many other stories in Namibia on Two Wheels by Gisele Netto and Michael Linke. Available now on Amazon.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Featured Volunteer: Richard Lieberman

It's been a hotly contested fight. Surely there were some insults and promises. It was dragged out and indeed ended with some mud 'slinging' (after a rain delay), but it's finally over. We have a decided winner. America, the Cubbies are great again!

We don't know if Richard Lieberman was rooting for Cleveland or Chicago, or anyone at all, but when naming this month's Featured Volunteer we couldn't help but throw in a little baseball after last night's epic series finale.

And we found this baseball quote to be apropos for the occasion, "My responsibility is getting all my players playing for the name on the front of the jersey, not the one on the back," anonymous.

Meet the Congregation Beth El Bikes for the World crew. And the fearless and dedicated leader, Richard Lieberman. After more than a decade of collecting bikes for BfW Richard's red shirt appears to free and clear of bike grease.

Either he has effectively recruited an amazing team of wrenching volunteers or he regularly washes with Dawn dish detergent, which truly does power through grease! As does his hard working team (seen here in smartly chosen black shirts).

This year they had a beautiful, warm fall day and the turn out was great. In fact Congregation Beth El saw their best year yet collecting 75 bikes.

Director Keith Oberg cited the dedication of Richard Lieberman and especially the amazing team he has put together year after year. Twelve to be exact!

Keith also pointed out the increase in bikes over the last few years which correlates to the publicity efforts of team member Linda Kolko (seen here in blue). Without taking sides, we'll just mention she's been preoccupied with another hotly contested race recently...but didn't let a little election get in the way of supporting one of her favorite causes!

Overall, Keith said it was a great day with a great group. He enjoyed working with the younger members of the crew who asked really good questions and were quick learners.