Bikes for the World

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Building on Community and Service

This all started back in 2011 with two girls from Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart. Those two girls, along with teacher Ken Woodward, would come out to King Farm a couple times a week to help us load containers to be shipped overseas.

This was part of their school wide Social Action program and over the years the popularity of working with Bikes for the World grew and grew. We continued to open up space year after to year to accommodate more girls during each session. They are now a crew of a dozen.

Several things have changed over the years to make this partnership beneficial for them, us, and especially our partners around the world. As the Stone Ridge team grew so did our need to find more work to keep them busy. It was also during that period that Bikes for the World really started focusing on the quality of our shipments going overseas.

If a main function of our mission was to create jobs through our donated bikes we needed to make sure those rural mechanics had parts to immediately start working on the bikes in need of repair. So we put wrenches, bottom bracket pullers, and chain breakers in the hands of these capable young women, and viola! mission accomplished.

We now had a regular team of students visiting our warehouse removing parts from marginal bikes we didn't want to ship overseas. While the frames may have been unsuitable to terrain we were shipping to, the parts would be invaluable to the mechanics. This allowed us to not only increase the value of the bikes we were shipping, but also include the necessary parts to fix and maintain the bikes already there.

And now that we finally settled into a comfortable warehouse and we know we are sticking around for a while, Operations Manager Bob Leftwich made it his priority to optimize our space to give this activity a permanent home. We now have half a dozen dedicated work spaces for our visiting 'mechanics'. Our parts wall is neat and organized. Whether you are stripping parts or building a bike no one is wasting time looking for the bin for that specific part.

With the addition of Executive Director Taylor Jones to our team, we can now open this activity up to more groups having both Bob and Taylor mentoring the youth around the more intricate bike parts and tools needed to strip down a frame. This is allowing us to be even more selective in what we ship as a full bike in our containers, cutting back on sending bikes that simply cannot be put back into use.

It's also giving school groups a more rounded experience when they come visit Bikes for the World. Just last month, our first group came as part of their bike mini-mester session. Georgetown Day School (GDS) is no stranger around Bikes for the World or our warehouse. In the past they have hosted many bike collections at the lower school and this past fall the upper school came out to load their first container.

Then the Dean of School Life, Quinn Killy, approached BfW about doing something a little more involved. His vision was to take two days and have a group of kids learn more about the importance of bikes around the world. They would then collect bikes and the kids would fix them up to be donated locally. The City Bikes mechanics came over to give a quick mechanics lesson to the teens and set them loose on repairing some of the donated bikes.

The following day the GDS students arrived in our warehouse with a truck full of bikes left over from the day before. They then helped us load a container of bikes heading to Wheels of Africa in Kenya. While the loading team worked with Bob to fill the container, Taylor worked with another group of students in the workbench area, stripping parts for the next shipment.

In the end the students learned a lot about what we do, and now have a better understanding of how valuable a discarded bike in the US can be to someone struggling to feed their family in Africa. A bicycle not only serves as affordable transportation, but it's a source of income and pride to many families. GDS also repaired and donated 15 bikes locally, to a group called No One Left Behind. This non profit was established to help Afghan and Iraqi combat interpreters with Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs) resettle safely in the United States.These war heroes put their lives in danger to help our soldiers. Many of them were forced to escape to safety in the US, but without the proper resources to succeed. No One Left Behind lends a hand to make that transition smoother.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

From Student to Teacher: Kadiatu, a Local Trailblazer

Kadiatu is a teacher at the Maria Inez Vocational School in Lunsar, Sierra Leone. She started working with Village Bicycle Project (VBP) several years ago and is one of the few female mechanics in the country.

Kadiatu is part of VBP's Learn to Ride program that started in Sierra Leone in 2009. Kadiatu trained to be a mechanic and she now keeps the bikes around the school in good working condition. She is also an inspiration to the girls at the school.

Kadiatu manages VBP's Bicycle Library program within Maria Inez School. This library was established to ensure that girls had bikes to get to and from school. For students who cannot afford to buy a bicycle this lending system allows them to borrow a bike to get to school. They are able to check out a bike much like a library book.

VBP initially formed in Ghana and when they tried to give bikes to girls they were faced with a problem. The boys kept stealing them. For years they continued to give bikes to boys while training girls to ride. The hope was that the girls could borrow their brothers' bikes. 

Kadiatu on the left with the girls in the Bike Library program

When they expanded the project to Sierra Leone they added the Learn to Ride component which was specifically focused on getting girls on bikes.  The Bike Library was added to ensure girls had access to bikes. Now girls had the opportunity to commute alongside their brothers, stay in school, and earn their degrees. They are becoming more confident as they ride and they are learning about mechanics and how to keep a bicycle clean and operational.

After five years, the program was so successful they took it Ghana and now run a Learn to Ride program there as well.

Annie is a student in Makeni, about an hour east of Lunsar (by car). Makeni is the main town near Makomp Bana, the village where Annie actually lives. The distance between her village and school makes her commute long and has negatively impacted many of her friends.

When VBP came to the community, many farmers signed up for the introductory class that goes over basic bike maintenance and includes a bicycle for every participant. The, mostly male, farmers planned to use the bikes to tend to their crops, carry more produce to market, and travel to the town center more quickly.

Annie wanted a bike to get to school. Many of her classmates had to find temporary homes in town so that they could get to school on time. Annie wanted to stay home to help her family but she also wanted to go to school. With her bike, Annie was able to live at home with her family and go to school rested and on time.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Featured Volunteer: Alex Obriecht Race Pace Bicycles

Keith Oberg and Alex Obriecht

Alex Obriecht is the owner of Race Pace Bicycles which just opened its seventh store this past year. All locations serve as drop off points for Bikes for the World.Actually Keith and Alex have been working together even longer than we've been known as Bikes for the World.

Part of the success of our relationship extends well beyond Alex. In each store, there is an employee who champions Bikes for the fact it's probably several.

The Race Pace family is an extension of the BfW family and it shows in their presentation of our program. They know what we do, they follow our progress, and they share that information to donors who drop in their store to donate bikes.

Norm, Kevin, and Keith
And they don't just talk a good game. In 2013 Norman Jacobs, a part time employee at the Columbia location, bought a dozen brand new Kona bikes to donate to our program in Uganda.

Kevin Dolan, store manager at the time, has been supporting us since the very beginning and he's been moving around to the new locations as they open. We can tell he's taking our message with him.

Jon Posner used to work at the Ellicott City location. He LOVES BfW. He even took the collection 'on the road' setting up at the Howard County Green Festival every year. Collecting bikes, mentoring volunteers, and spreading the good work of BfW.

Jon and volunteer Jim Mitchell
It's so important to us to have these partnerships not only in the community but also in the bike industry. Working with bike shops allows us to increase the availability our donors have for a convenient drop off location. It saves us time to do bulk pick ups...some Race Pace Bicycle locations can hold 30 or more bikes at one time.

And it gets riders on better bikes! Often times we wind up with a donated bike because someone has upgraded or decided to buy a new bike rather than repair the old one. And Race Pace Bicycles serves the biking community unlike any other. These guys ride, they know bikes, and they know how to communicate with any type of rider. Their shops are welcoming to any level of cyclist and so is their staff. They were catering to the female cyclist before that was chic.

Alex has built an incredible bike business. They have connected to the community they serve and they continue to listen to their wants and needs and they deliver. It is this commitment that has carried them through rocky times that wiped out many other local (and bigger chain) stores.

They never once turned their back on our mission and continue to help deliver quality used bicycles to our partners overseas. Every year they get more and more bikes and Race Pace has been backing that financially as well. They feel so strongly about what we do and what it takes to achieve our goals that they see to it that we meet our $10/bike donation goal.

Race Pace has also been the drive-chain making possible our donations to the Baltimore Christmas Bike Project over the past decade. Donating bikes back to the community has been the mission of our partner in Columbia, St John’s United Methodist-Presbyterian Church and St John the Evangelist Catholic Church. The hardest part of a donation like this is our bikes come to us in need of repairs. Race Pace hopped in with a solution and has been making those repairs AND finding bikes for the kids in this project. More than 150 bikes since the beginning. Kudos and thanks to Alex and the entire Race Pace family.