MELBOURNE -- It’s a simple but an effective idea; collect disused bicycles and send them across the world to communities that need them.
In 2009 Matt McCullough started the Melbourne chapter of Bicycles for Humanity (B4H), a global grassroots organization responsible for shipping thousands of bicycles to Africa. Next week, another container from Melbourne, holding 400 bicycles, hundreds of helmets, panniers and bike parts, will be shipped to Namibia.
McCullough, who runs an animation agency in St Kilda, was prompted to start B4H after he discovered that his old friend Michael Linked was running Bicycle Empowerment Network (BEN) in Namibia, an organization that collects pre-loved bicycles from the West and then distributes them to communities in Africa.
To date, BEN Namibia has distributed over 20,000 bikes in Africa -- the vast majority of which have come from B4H chapters worldwide. Since 2009. B4H Melbourne, together with their African distributor BEN Namibia, has sent 2,500 bikes to sub-Saharan Africa, with the Australian total approaching 3,000.
Central to the B4H project is the establishment of Bicycle Empowerment Centers (BEC) -- small bike workshops implemented in the shipping containers the bikes arrive in.
In Namibia, 25 BECs have been implemented to provide training in both mechanical and business skills for the local community. Each BEC is attached to a beneficiary organisation, such as an orphanage or HIV/AIDS outreach center.
Many of the bikes sent via B4H Melbourne and its other chapters, go to Home Based Care workers who look after and care for HIV/AIDS patients. “The bikes mean they can see more patients, spend more time with them and importantly carry supplies. In Namibia, in some areas where they work, the infection rate is as high as 48%,” McCullough said.
These BECs not only provide somewhere for the bikes to be fixed and serviced but also employment opportunities, skills training, economic stimulus and an entrepreneurial culture for the communities in which they are placed.
“All evidence points to grassroots, ground up development of this sort that empowers people to take control of their lives as one of the major ways forward for Africa to move away from aid dependence,” McCullough said.
"A bicycle in the developing world means someone can travel twice as far, twice as fast and carry four times the load," he explained. "This means access to education, health care, fresh food and water, economic opportunity, employment prospects and wider community while also provided for higher productivity through time saving.
McCullough also tells us the bicycles also make a significant economic impact on a country like Namibia where the unemployment rate is around 40%.
“The potential that sustainable transport provides for being the tipping point in the economic viability of a small business or farm cannot be understated,” he said. “With the time saving and ability to get more goods to market this can represent the breaking of a cycle of poverty for a family or whole community -- this change can have ongoing effects resulting in lasting change.”
The first B4H chapter was started by Pat Montani in Whistler, Canada. Currently there are around 23 chapters right across North America and Europe. To find out more about B4H watch this video or visit the B4H website.
Photo: Bicycles for Humanity (Melbourne).