A few years back I was sent a beautiful handmade wooden bicycle by an artisan from Malawi, who crafted the most amazing wooden toys. He spurred an interest in me for handmade bicycles from different African countries. In different shapes and sizes from recycled pop and beer cans, to galvanised beaded wire, you find these little gems on street corners and in markets from Dakar to Cape Town. The unique little details make these pieces of African art really quite ingenious and delightful to own. At the Pan African market in Cape Town, there used to be an artisan from Kenya who had filled a little 5x5 room from floor to ceiling with colourful wire “boda-boda” (the brightly coloured padded bikes used for transport across the border between Uganda and Kenya).
We recently had our interest reminded and retweaked while working with two great grass roots ventures who provide bicycles to countries in Africa for basic transport needs. To millions in Africa who walk for water, medical help or go to school, a bicycle is empowering and the first mode of transportation on their journey from poverty to a better life. Bicycles For Humanity and Wheels 4 Life are two organisations supporting communities in Africa and they form the foundation for change in Africa, driven by the simple belief that a bicycle can make a difference.
Bicycles For Humanity now has 30 Chapters across the world who collect donated bicycles and then send them by the container load to be distributed to people who need them the most. It is entirely volunteer-run with 100% of donations going toward transportation and in-country project implementation costs of Bicycle Empowerment Centres (BEC). A BEC is a bicycle shop-in-a-box delivered to a community in a developing country. A 40 ft shipping container, stocked with about 400 bicycles, tools, spare parts and accompanied by comprehensive training in bicycle mechanics, it is designed to empower communities with their own transport and their own means of maintaining it. The container remains at its destination and becomes a “building” in the community. Doors and windows are cut out and a heat-shielding roof is placed on top. In this way, the shipping container is converted into a community-based bike shop.
Wheels 4 Life was founded by former world mountain bike champion Hans Rey. Following his World Championship mountain bike career, Hans took to filming documentaries of trips taken to the farthest corners of the earth. The Hans Rey Adventure Team uses extreme mountain biking skills to discover remote cultures and historical mysteries. As these adventures have taken Hans across the continents, he has seen people in need of the freedom and reliability of the bicycle. Hans founded the non-profit charity Wheels4Life to reconnect with the places he visited and to leave a lasting impact.They have now delivered 3172 bikes in 20 countries around the world (as of February 02, 2012) and currently have 24 projects in progress. They buy the bikes in the country where the bikes are given away. That not only supports the local economy, but it also makes it easier to find replacement parts, when needed.
For more information on these great organisations visit www.bicycles-for-humanity.org and www.wheels4life.org