Sunday, January 2, 2011

Bicycles for Empowerment

I decided that I wanted to give my brother, Justin a bicycle for Christmas. Well, not really for Justin's use, but for the use of a school girl living in the developing world. I spent a lot of time researching nonprofits who are engaged in this work, and loved what I found.

I selected the volunteer-run Village Bicycle Project, based in Vancouver, Washington. With the help of Peace Corps Volunteers, the organization brings bicycles, riding, and repair workshops to communities and people in need. They also provide tools and parts to keep bicycles rolling.

The Village Bicycle Project collaborates with two other organizations that I researched - Bikes Not Bombs and Mike's Bikes Foundation. I love this video about their work:

Brittany Richards, who volunteered with the Village Bicycle Project, taught girls and women how to ride and maintain bicycles that she then gave them. In 2009 she taught 300 kids (85% girls) in the town of Lunsar, and outlying villages in Sierra Leone, how to ride bicycles.

photo: Kadija, Mabinty, Abibatu and Ramatulai learn to ride in Lunsar, Sierra Leone.

Liz Bageant spent seven months in Ghana in 2007. She will be returning this year to train new women repair instructors and to run Learning-To-Ride workshops for women and girls.

photo: Liz Bageant teaches a woman to ride in Ghana in 2007.

I wound up loving their work so much that I purchased bicycles for two school girls living in Sierra Leone or Ghana:) You can buy a bicycle through the Village Bicycle Project here! You can also donate your bike to the cause by dropping it off at the nearest Mike's Bikes store.

Check out BBC's January 2009 program Bicycle Diaries to learn about bicycles that are changing people's lives in France, Uganda, and India. The interviewees reference bicycles as trusted friends. One says that his bicycle is his wife, and that a girlfriend can leave you, but a bicycle can't:)

As an aside, the Winter 2009 Lehigh Alumni Bulletin featured Adam Mack, '06 who along with four of his IDEO co-workers designed a tricycle, the Aquaduct to draw attention to the 1.2 billion people in the world who do not have access to clean water. The Aquaduct won the Grand Prize in the 2008 Innovate or Die Pedal-Powered Machine contest, sponosored by Specialized Bicycles, Google, and Goodby, Silverstein & Partners. The tricycle was not practical for reproduction, but generated awareness about the issue. The team's YouTube video about the tricycle was one of the most viral videos on the internet one week, and was featured in Wired Magazine, NBC, the San Francisco Examiner, and several other news sources.

Happy Holidays, all! I hope the two school girls will like their bicycles:)

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