Bikes for the World

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Catch-22, Meet Force of Nature

Mary Wiiyor is a young mother who took part in a Village Bicycle Project (VBP) Preventative Maintenance Workshop several years ago in the upper west region of Ghana.

Back then Bikes for the World Ghanaian parnter VBP noticed an important distinction...women really needed bikes, but many didn't have them. Some had never learned to ride a bike. Others kept having their bikes stolen from their male relatives or even other boys in the village.  It was a gender biased Catch-22.

So VBP devised a plan to empower these women one spoke at a time.  First they would teach them to ride a bike. Through their already established workshops, VBP staff and trainers could reach rural women and get them up and rolling on two wheels. Once a girl knew how to ride a bike her whole world opened up to change.

With her new riding skills a young woman could borrow her brother or father's bike and run errands more efficiently, maybe to go get firewood in the evening. Or to carry heavy loads of water.

All of a sudden these chores became, dare we say, fun. It definitely saved time and enabled her to carry more wood. It also allowed her to skip the dangerous practice of head loading, where women carry extremely heavy loads on their heads, sometimes injuring their necks and backs.

Meanwhile, VBP continued training men and supplying them with bicycles. And eventually the guys stopped stealing the women's bikes. Maybe they all had their own bikes. Or maybe they saw the benefit women brought to the family once they had bikes.

Regardless, VBP started offering bikes to men and women at all their clinics. And what they found was increased productivity in the village. Kids were going to and staying in school. Farmers increased crops. Budding mechanics found work.  And bikes just kept rolling year after year.

What they also learned is the girls really loved the work. They were good with their hands and were proud to own a bike. They learned how to properly clean and maintain their bikes. They could change a tire. Tweak their brakes. Some even learned more intricate skills to repair bikes.

Eventually, VBP started to offer women's only classes. Here the trainers could focus more directly on what the women really needed to improve. Without the, sometimes domineering, men around,  women were in a more relaxed space where they felt more comfortable asking questions and moving at their skill level and pace.

At the end of the class, the women received: a wire brush, screwdriver, tire levers, lube, a tube, and a pump. Oh, and a bicycle and the skills to ride it!

Today, Selina Abuakwa is not only the proud owner of her very own bicycle, but she knows how to ride and maintain it. Since receiving her bicycle from VBP in April of 2016 she is now financially independent.

Selina uses her bicycle to get to work and also for work. Her farm is about four miles from her house and it used to take her two hours a day to walk.

She now does that commute in under 30 minutes and uses the time she saves to grow more cassava! She also uses the rack on the back to carry the cultivated cassava directly to her customers.

With the saved time and extra income not only is Selina's life improved but so are the lives of her three children.

To borrow the phrase from REI Co-Op, Selina Abuakwa is a true Force of Nature.

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