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.

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