One of the constant struggles in Sierra Leone is keeping a bicycle in working order. Good parts are extremely hard to come by since most of the parts imported into the country are from China and of very poor quality. This is compounded by the fact that this is a harsh environment for anything mechanical – heavy rains, harsh sun,, rocky terrain, and rambunctious kids create a perfect storm for bike break-downs. Bike mechanics are surprisingly common here but many people don’t use their services because they can’t afford it or they don’t even realize that their bike is in need of repair.
This maintenance is one of the big challenges for the “bike libraries” that we establish at a school after we complete a Learn to Ride program there. Too often, even a minor mechanical problem leads to a bike gathering dust. One of the locations that seems to have found the remedy is Panlap. VBP trained a Peace Corps Volunteer, Jessie Logerfu, on how to conduct a Learn to Ride class and provided her with a few bikes, tools, and bicycle parts. The class was a huge success and Jessie reports that several of the girls, who had previously only attended school two or three times a week, are at school every day now and are consequently doing much better in their classes. Despite some hard use and being ridden for dozens of miles every week, the bikes are still in great condition, largely thanks to Panlap’s resident bike mechanic, Frances Conteh. Frances has told all the Learn to Ride girls that they can bring their bikes to his shop at any time and he’ll fix them for free. Frances says he’s happy to do it because he’s seen what a huge difference these bikes make in the lives of the girls and he sees it as being good for the whole community. In addition to Frances’ help, girls like Isita Mansaray (pictured below) get help from their families. Isita’s older brother beamed with pride as we watched her ride down the street on her bike and said that he helps her keep the bike in good working order. Isita currently lives an hour’s walk away from her school but, in one year, she’ll start attending a school that is over two hours away making her riding skills even more valuable.
We hope to replicate the success of the classes and library in Panlap but it will take even more intensified efforts at community engagement and partnering with local bike mechanics.