Bikes for the World

Thursday, January 26, 2017

The Heart of Rebuilding a Hub

Last summer we watched helplessly as our neighbors to the north in Ellicott City Maryland suffered a devastating blow when a surprise storm overtook the town. This wasn't a hurricane or tornado we were bracing for, it was a severe rain storm that wasn't expected to bring the damage it did.

Water swelled from below and ran from above and collected at the bottom of the hill taking with it everything in its path. It tore away streets and sidewalks, carried away cars like small boats, destroyed homes and businesses, leaving behind mud and devastation. Out of this razed town rose a stronger community.

Family and friends took in displaced residents. The Governor came and promised to fix the streets, loans were issued. Strangers came together to help clean and rebuild buildings and bring back to life the heart of this historical town that relies on small business to thrive. It is still a work in progress, but if you visit Ellicott City that is exactly what you will find, progress, and a heart of platinum.

Imagine losing your home, your business, everything you own. Imagine no one coming to your aid. Imagine relocating to an unknown place, where you don't speak the language, have no family or friends- just you, your family and a few possessions you grabbed that now fit in the trunk of a car.

This isn't a life most people would hope for or dream about, but it has become a reality for millions of Syrians forced to leave the rubble of what was once their home. On a TV screen we've seen their towns reduced to a pile of rocks. We've seen the shock and disbelief on their troubled faces. We argue about how to help, IF we should help, whether we should open our doors or close our borders. What many of us in America fail to see is a human in crisis.

Adham, Maher, and Munir with Harvey and Keith
Maryland has taken in about 400 Syrian refugees in 2016. Virginia, less. They come with a suitcase full of clothes, a family to care for, and no job, no house, no idea what to do next.

American host families stepped up and opened their homes, welcoming the displaced families into their own. One host family was shocked to find how much luggage came with the Syrian family they were taking in. "We expected them to arrive with nothing, but there were so many suitcases in the trunk." When they opened their luggage they not only found clothes but also food. The realization hit of what it must be like to relocate to a foreign country not knowing how you were going to feed your family.

Thanks to the generosity and support of these American families, the newly arriving Syrians had a safe place to call home, if only temporary. Enter in Langley Hill Friends Meeting who collectively decided they also needed to help. The Friends community helped them find jobs, get their kids enrolled in school, apply for a drivers license. Eventually they would find homes of their own.

But for many refugees settled all over the US transportation remains a problem. Buying a car is often out of reach for many Syrians for months after arriving in the States. This limits the type of jobs they can apply for depending on where they live and the means they have to commute. Many refugees often wind up walking to work and to run family errands.

Najla Drooby, of Langley Hill, recognized this early and approached Bikes for the World. She also identified a young man named Munir who had some bike mechanic skills and asked if he could join us in the warehouse. After just one week in the warehouse, Munir earned a couple bikes and spare parts for fellow refugees to use for work. He returned the following week, with friends.

Nathan, one of our veteran volunteer mechanics worked with Munir and Maher showing them some of the tricks of the trade. They were unfamiliar with some of the specialized bike tools unavailable to them back home. Nathan reported that communication proved to be no barrier when dealing with tools and's a universal, understood language. Adham spent most of his time assisting Keith loading the containers helping other people around the world.

This Syrian crew joined us in our last days at Pentagon City helping us load containers, prepare bikes and parts to ship overseas and also earned bikes to take home, something we don't normally allow at Bikes for the World. But this was a unique situation. This cause aligned with our mission. We identified some road bikes that are harder to place in our rural projects around the world and put them to good use here in our backyard. It was a small resource we could spare that had a huge impact in our community.

Our bikes were helping these new Maryland families go to work, the library, and run errands. The goal was to help them succeed and to do that be independent again. We hoped to help these families return to the self-sufficient life many of them left behind.