World Bicycle Relief and the Power of Bicycles

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In support of #DoGoodFriday Stephen Cromwell, Director for World Bicycle Relief talks about the specially-designed bikes that they build and distribute to those who’s lives they change so immeasurably.​

Why do you ride a bike? Chances are that if you’re a Vulpine customer you are either commuting into work or riding for pleasure. Either way you know how amazing a bicycle is. It’s the efficiency, the feeling of speed and the simple pleasure of moving under your own steam. However, very few of us rely on our bicycles for mobility and more often than not it’s a choice. Perhaps we could drive, take the bus to work or go indoors to the gym to get some exercise, but we choose not to because riding a bike is awesome in so many ways.

Across the world many people in rural areas don’t have much say when it comes to getting from A to B. They walk. That’s it. Shank’s Pony, Hobsons Choice. Need to get to school? Bring food and water for the family? You walk and you carry. This wastes a huge amount of time and energy and denies them the chance to improve their lives. Distance is a barrier, time an enemy.

But the bicycle is an incredible solution. With a bike someone can walk four times as far, carry five times as much and save hours each day that would have been spent walking. But their bike needs to be right for them and their environment. World Bicycle Relief is an organisation that has developed a bike for people who live in remote rural areas in Africa. It’s called the Buffalo and it’s very strong, reliable, can cope with the terrain and importantly can be repaired and parts replaced in villages which are hundreds of miles from the nearest bike shop.

A reliable Buffalo bicycle is transformational. Children, especially girls who would be denied the chance to attend school, can ride and arrive on time and ready to learn. Healthcare workers can visit twice as many patients and provide better care. Farmers and entrepreneurs who transport goods to market can carry more, build their livelihoods and lose less time to repairs.

Since 2005 World Bicycle Relief has distributed more than 270,000 of these locally assembled bicycles and trained over a thousand field mechanics to keep them running.

This year we visited the village of Palabana in Zambia to see how bicycles are changing lives. Thanks to the generosity of WBR supporters Palabana is a community on the move. People are able to overcome many of the challenges they face and change their lives for the better.

The Children’s Village is one place in Palabana that has seen the power of the bicycle.

Widowed and in her late sixties, Barbara Lungu is a housemother at Children’s Village in Palabana. Successfully raising her family of four children and six grandchildren, Barbara sought employment at Children’s Village after her husband had passed. Barbara finds her work very rewarding and uses her Buffalo Bicycle to visit the market, run errands and help care for the children. Barbara is on the move. “The bicycle has made a huge difference for the students in the village. You see, the distance from school to home to the village, it is all very difficult. A bicycle helps make the distance not so bad.” Says Barbara

Mary Tembo came to Children’s Village in 2004 when she was just seven years old. Mary’s father had passed away and her mother, who is HIV positive, was no longer able to care for her. She had grown up in poverty and arrived malnourished, small, and withdrawn. She was struggling to see her future.

Mary turned 18 in June, and Barbara is proud of the progress Mary has made since living at Children’s Village. Barbara believes it is essential to educate all girls to ensure they have a chance, just like Mary. “The girl-child is the mother of the nation,” Barbara says.

Before receiving a bicycle, Mary would wake before the sun and walk an hour and a half to attend school five miles away. She would arrive tired and unable to concentrate. Attending class from 7:00 a.m. until 4:30 p.m., Mary would often get home after dark and head straight to bed, too exhausted for homework or visiting with friends. Even on weekends, Mary remained tired from the weekly commute and failed to participate in activities.

Identified by her community as a student in need, Mary received a Buffalo Bicycle to help her get to school. With a bicycle, Mary is now vibrant and full of possibility.

“Since the bicycle we’ve seen Mary’s face brightening,” says Barbara. “Now, she’s doing well in her school exams. She also likes to participate in activities, especially netball.”

Support from Vulpine and people like provides the tools that empower students like Mary and enable whole communities to thrive. Palabana is just the beginning.

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