I wondered why somebody didn’t doing something. Then I realized, I am somebody. – Source Unknown
Have you got an old bike that’s become a fixture in your already too crammed garage? Maybe it’s time to give it a chance for a new life in Africa. There, your discarded bike can be a vehicle for hope. It can change a life.
Connecting old, unused bikes with new users in developing countries is the brainchild of businessman Pat Montani. After starting three companies that became international leaders in the high-tech industry, Mr. Montani decided it was time for a change. “You reach a point in your life when you move from success to insignificance, waiting to die. So I gave it up.” Instead, he decided he wanted to do something good for the world.
Mr. Montani looked around. And noticed the humble bicycle. In North America bikes are used primarily for recreation, but in third-world countries a bicycle is a highly valued mode of transportation. Yet few there can afford to buy one. Whatever people need, walking is the only way to get it. Access to food and water, healthcare, education, job opportunities, and community events are all limited to whatever people can reach by foot. In the developing world, owning a bike can literally transform a life.
In 2004, Pat and his wife Brenda collected a truckload of bikes and delivered them to a development project in Mexico. This was the pilot project for what would become Bicycles For Humanity (B4H), an initiative that breathes new life into unwanted bicycles by shipping them to Africa, where they are desperately needed—where they can be used by rural healthcare workers to reach more people more often, by mothers to transport water and food to their families, and by men and women to gain broader access to employment opportunities and educational resources.
Since 2004, Bicycles For Humanity chapters have sprouted up across Canada, the United States and Australia. Earlier this year, B4H Ottawa sent a BEC (Bicycle Empowerment Center) packed with 350 bicycles, spare parts and tools to the House of Love for Orphans and Vulnerable Children Centre (HLOVC) in Rundi, in the Kavango region of Namibia.
The HLOVC runs a kindergarten, and supports orphans—of which there are many because of HIV/AIDS—through feeding programs and home visits. With the bicycles they’ve received from B4H Ottawa, the HLOVC reaches more children more frequently. It also raises funds by getting the fresh bread they bake and the clothes they sew to market, transports sick children to health clinics, and helps children get to school.
Through this one shipment of bicycles, HLOVC will generate additional income to help more than 10 other groups that work in home-based-care, helping orphans and HIV/AIDS support groups in the Kavango region.
By 2010, Bicycles For Humanity expects to send 150,000 bikes to developing countries annually. B4H is a grassroots organization run entirely by volunteers. All donations go to the transportation of bicycles. Many communities across Canada are starting their own B4H chapters.
To find out how you can help, or to start your own chapter, get in touch with a B4H group near you. Volunteer your time or drop off used cycling accessories (helmets, pumps, tools). Better still, pack up your old bike and send it on a journey to Africa where it will change a life.
© 2008 Laurel-Lea Shannon
For more information about Bicycles For Humanity:
Bicycles for Humanity – Feature on Pat Montani