Bikes for the World

Friday, December 29, 2017

Featured Volunteer: Ron Watts

This guy. What would we do without Ron Watts? Just look at him picking up and moving not one, not two, but three a time!

It would be understating Ron's worth to focus on him moving bikes, but quite a bit of his time has been spent on just that, moving bikes for Bikes for the World's South Carolina spin off. Not just some bikes, but hundreds and hundreds of bikes.

In the 2017 collection season South Carolina was critical in supplying bikes to our overseas partners as we saw an increase in demand. The crew in Charleston actually loaded three containers of bikes in 2017, some of those bikes coming from collection points in NC as well.

As we prepared to move into our current semi-permanent warehouse in March of this past year we worked to deplete the number of bikes we had on hand in DC to make that move more efficiently. This could have delayed our ability to ship bikes to our partners who were in desperate need of affordable transportation. With the addition of bikes on hand in Charleston we were able to keep our shipments moving seamlessly.

In the spring of 2017, a community of Methodist churches spanning the state joined forces to help collect bikes for our partners around the world. Over a dozen churches set out to make a huge impact in our program with the goal of collecting 100 bikes in each of their communities. The results were staggering; one church actually collected nearly 300 bikes!

This creates a logistical challenge for our drivers...and in South Carolina, that was often Ron Watts. Just this past fall Ron drove over 400 miles ONE WAY to cover a couple collections as far north as Raleigh North Carolina. He had the biggest Penske truck we can legally rent, which we assumed could easily hold the 180 bikes we expected from both events. To our surprise 180 bikes is what ONE collection site ended up with; the other netted nearly 120.

Somehow, someway Ron squeezed those 300 bikes into the Penske for the long drive back to Charleston. Now we have to assume quite a few of those must have been kid sized bikes for them all to fit, but he even had an adult sized tricycle in there so we know it was no easy feat.

In addition to driving and assisting at collections Ron also managed the warehouse space in Charleston and supervised the Navy volunteers who came to help prep bikes on occasion. Ron assisted Paul Keefer, the area coordinator in SC doing anything asked of him: doing big pick ups, individual picks up, going by partner bike shops, mentoring young volunteers at collections, and helping with the loadings.

As we head into 2018 South Carolina will break off and operate independently from Bikes for the World, doing what they have been doing, collecting bikes in the community and changing lives around the world. BfW will continue to offer advice and support where possible but we are super proud to see this effort growing into something that can stand alone and better serve the community at the local level. We know Ron Watts is a huge part of the equation making this all possible.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Creating Jobs and Increasing Wages

As soon as a Bikes for the World container hits the ground overseas its impact on the community is immediate. From unloading bikes, to recording inventory, and especially repairing and rebuilding bikes by a skilled mechanic, the arrival of the container first and foremost generates jobs.

In Guinea-Bissau our container directly affected seven established bike repairers who were called upon by Global Fairness Initiative to help refurbish the bikes donated through BfW in 2015.

Bacar Mamudu is 65 years old and has been repairing bikes for the past 16 years. His bike business boomed when our bikes arrived in need of repair. Bacar charged for repairs and offered his services on loan to villagers who could not pay upfront.

Bacar was thrilled to see so many bikes coming into the community, "Now I receive so many more bikes per month in need of repair. This has had a positive impact on my monthly income." Bacar went on to say he was learning many new skills working on the bikes which are different than other bikes he's seen in the past.

Famta Fati is a member of the local farming association APALCOF. She purchased one of the bikes donated to APALCOF last year through BfW. Now that Famta has a bicycle she is able to commute to her horticulture farm much faster than when she was traveling by foot.

Previously Famta walked several miles a day in the sweltering sun just to get to and from her field. After working all day in her crops, without shade, she often felt worn out and less productive.

She now reports having more time in the fields and at home not to mention more energy to do her work. She feels much healthier and less stressed. She is also using the bike to help transport her produce to a roadside market.

Maimuna Blade dropped out of school before graduating, but is working toward saving enough money to go back to continue her education. She purchased a bike from APALCOF which she uses for work, errands, and social activities.

"My bike encourages me to work harder not only to go back to school, but also in carrying on other community activities which are far apart."

Maimuna works on her family's agricultural farm and uses her bike to collect fire wood and carry animal feed to the farm. She is able to save twice as much money now that she has a bicycle, making her dream of returning to school within reach.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Update From Guinea-Bissau

In 2015, Bikes for the World added a new partner in Guinea-Bissau in collaboration with the Global Fairness Initiative. Over 400 bikes were donated through the Guinea-Bissau Livelihood Initiative, which just came to an end this year.

Many of our newer partners come about through larger projects looking to expand transportation solutions while also increasing capital to help fund the overall mission of the project. Fixing and selling our donated bikes brings needed transportation to isolated villages, helps establish new jobs and businesses, and helps sustain the initial project.

In Madagascar, we worked in tandem with Transaid to help support a multi-year effort to bring better health care to rural areas of the country. A bike component was introduced toward the end of the project to help fund aspects of the health care initiative such as the emergency transport system and health insurance policies for the members of the co-op. The idea is that when the project ends, and in turn much of the overseeing support from the establishing non profit, the program will continue and thrive being sustained by its own community.

In Guinea-Bissau that larger non profit is Global Fairness Initiative (GFI), which helped establish the Guinea-Bissau Livelihood Initiative (GBLI) to support and strengthen local farming associations and their communities. Similarly, as in Madagascar, the bike component was introduced to help support projects initiated through this larger program.

For GBLI, that larger program centered around food security. GBLI implemented a series of interventions tailored to the unique needs of its beneficiary communities. These interventions aimed to strengthen the foundation of beneficiaries’ farming activities so that they could progress from subsistence farming to farming as a business.

APALCOF is a women's farming collective of more than 3,500 smallholder producers singled out by GFI. GBLI worked with APALCOF and its members to strengthen their capacity, increase access to markets, and ultimately improve their livelihoods.

In collaboration with Bikes for the World and GFI, APALCOF distributed our donated bikes in 2016. The bikes and spare parts were sold to farmers in Bafata and Gabu at discounted prices. The money earned through bike sales was reinvested into a bank account to support the micro-credit program, thus increasing access to loans to beneficiaries.

The bikes served as a means of transportation for farmers during their farming activities, often eliminating extra time and energy exerted to travel from the wells to the field or from their homes to markets. Children also used the bikes to go to school, some of which were upwards of 5 kilometers from their home village. Additionally, the bikes were particularly helpful to women and families, who used the bikes to go to health centers.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Featured Volunteer: Ellen Condon

Bikes for the World is blessed with an amazing crew of volunteers who champion our mission at school, work, home...sometimes to strangers they meet on Metro. The reason we are able to affect the great number of lives we do around the world is because of our huge volunteer network. Many of our volunteers have been with us for years, even decades. Some times when they retire we even get to see more of them.

And sometimes we don't. Ellen Condon has been with Bikes for the World for over a decade. She has helped us collect bikes, promoted our cause to the bikers at NIH (where she worked) and even lent us her truck from time to time when Yvette had too many bikes to transport.

But as of last week Ellen retired from NIH and is getting ready to move out of state. While she will no longer be dropping bikes by the warehouse, she will no doubt continue to follow our progress online. But we sure will miss her around here.

Just this past summer Ellen helped put us in touch with the NIH Police Department which had collected over 40 abandoned bikes on campus. They recognized these bikes could be put to good use so they looked for an alternative to scrapping them. The NIH Police coordinated the effort with the NIH Bicycle Commuter Club, which Ellen was a member of, to get these bikes to Bikes for the World.

It's connections like this that have helped grow our organization over the years. Since Ellen found out about Bikes for the World we've nearly doubled our annual intake of bikes. It's our partnerships with bike shops, police departments, condo associations, universities, etc. that have really kept our organization rolling, especially in our slower collection months. This supply of bikes has allowed us to increase our number of donations per year and increase the number of partners we support around the globe. It's invaluable. And it's through dedicated volunteers like Ellen that we often 'find' these sources of bikes.

"I met Ellen, like I meet many of our volunteers for the first time, through email. That probably went on for a couple years until she needed to drop off a sewing machine and we realized we were practically neighbors. Now whenever I was overwhelmed with bikes in my yard I could just call Ellen and she came right over.

"Who doesn't like having a friend that owns a truck? You never know when you might need to move something. But how many truck owners will let you stack 20 bikes in the bed and then drive them cross town looking like the Beverly Hill Billies!?! That's Ellen," says Yvette Hess, Outreach Coordinator.

And Keith Oberg, Director remembers Ellen even further back, "Ellen was always such a cheerful, optimistic, and welcoming presence, whether at collections or at King Farm. She was a joy to work with and interact with other volunteers, she made the social aspect of Bikes for the World so much more positive. I went home smiling at the end of a day. Our loss is Michigan’s gain!"