Imagine a bicycle recycling project that involved the community at every level: the collecting, fixing, fundraising, and shipping of bikes at our end; and the maintenance, distribution, transportation, and operation of bikes sent to 3rd world countries. As a Social Work student, I eat this up. Bicycles for Humanity has sent 8 containers of donated and tuned up bikes and most recently sent a container of 500 bikes this month! You can view a video documenting the process here: http://player.vimeo.com/video/16983718?title=0&byline=0&portrait=0
This project is very grassroots, as the bikes come from community members and fixed by people who have local roots, but they are achieving something that would seem near impossible without collaboration. They operate out of the basement of an art gallery in downtown Fort William in Thunder Bay. I had the chance to see the location and learn about fixing bikes along with youth from the Katimavik program and the New Experiences Program. A portion of the bikes that are donated go towards local projects such as these. There have been over 4500 bikes donated altogether.
What the bikes do in countries such as Namibia, is provide transportation, health care, and food. An orphanage that was donated bikes had over 30 youth staying there. They were all into drugs and violence but when given the bikes, they immediately all turned their lives around and every single one of them is in school. The program provides jobs to the community, as the bikes are not just dumped in Africa, but they are given to maintenance workers who then distribute them as a business venture and work on the bikes to create sustainability of the project. Where hospitals are far away and people used to transport others on the end of their bike, the maintenance shops have created bicycle carts to attach to the end of their bike. Medical supplies such as first aid kits and HIV/AIDS prevention packages are also distributed to at-risk areas with the use of the bikes. Also, what used to be a difficult trip to access food at long distances, is now made easier.
The community members who receive, improve, and send the bikes are passionate about the cause. And, those who donate the bikes are glad to get rid of the dust collectors in their sheds. The Thunder Bay youth get to learn bicycle maintenance skills and may get to keep one which they ordinarily wouldn’t be able to afford. At all levels, this is a truly innovative, inventive, and inspiring undertaking and involves the community in an organic way.