VBP: Movement 4 Mobility

VBP program totals as of late-2016:

  • 106,000 donated used bikes shipped to Africa since 1999.
  • 18,000 new bike owners taught bike repair skills in Ghana and Sierra Leone.
  • 60,000 bike tools distributed in 14 African countries.
  • 3500 (mostly female) students learned to ride a bike in Ghana and Sierra Leone.

Since 1999 VBP has been delivering used bicycles and maintenance skills to rural villages,  allowing new bike riders to get where they need to go quickly and economically.  People are riding to increase farm yields, improve school attendance and grades, and increase incomes.   We know bicyclists arrive 4 times faster than walkers, saving precious time and energy.  People riding a bike can carry four times the weight of someone walking. Farmers, merchants, and people carrying water home are thrilled that life is so much easier. Barriers are reduced and opportunities increased. The village neighbors watch, and a change in cycling culture begins.

 

Fixing a Flat Yourself

Riding a bike changes lives, we know that for sure.  But what about when the inevitable flat tire happens?  VBP bike riders don’t let that stop them, as they have the skills to fix that flat themselves. VBP One Day Maintenance Workshops, which we provide to everyone who purchases one of our discounted bicycles,  teaches the art of fixing a flat.  We also teach how to adjust brakes and gears and how to listen for the start of bigger problems. VBP bikes “are quiet”, we are often told, because the owners know how to keep things in tip-top shape.  Thanks to VBP training of village bike mechanics, riders also have a place to go if they need help.

VBP Learn-to-Ride Empowers Girls and Women

Since 2009, nearly 3000 girls and women have learned to ride a bike thanks to our Learn to Ride programs. Girls who live farthest from school (over 3 miles each way) have been awarded bikes to allow them to attend school more regularly, leading to  better attendance and grades. We know more education leads to delayed child bearing and gives a woman and her family a better and healthier future. Riding is four times faster than walking and gives girls the added advantage of having more time for homework and chores.

Read more about our Learn to Ride Program here.

Coming out of her shell: a shy girl learns to ride and wins the race

A few months into our program development in early 2015 Fatawu, a Learn to Ride trainer, and former L2R coordinator Clara Mathews found themselves in Akete, BA, about an hour away from Techiman, working with a local teacher and Peace Corps Volunteer Sara Rosenberg. The two of them had organized a small class behind the local school where the girls could practice. All the VBP team had to do was show up and encourage the kids to keep on riding.

By day three, there were twenty girls coming every night, and one who was too shy to come out from her hiding spot behind the bushes. “Who is that?” Clara asked Sara. “That’s Angela” she told her, “she’s super shy, but has been asking everyone at school about the bikes. Give her time, she’ll come out.”

The next day as we took roll, Abdul Fatawu noticed there was an extra name. Angela had come out of hiding, and put her name down to ride a bike. She then hid behind the other girls and proceeded to watch everyone else ride. Abdul saw her hiding and went over to say hello. He asked her if she felt ready to ride, and she shook her head and went back to hiding. Sara laughed, “Baby steps. She’ll come when she’s good and ready.”

Day four rolled around, and Angela came to put her name on the roll call. As she went back to hide behind the other girls, Issak, one of the helper boys came over and offered her a bike. We don’t know what was said between the two of them, but Angela got on the bike. Her new friend pushed her for a bit, then let go. She crashed into the outhouse, ate some dirt, got up smiling, and said “Again!”

For two days we watched Angela and Issak practice and practice and practice some more until Angela was riding all on her own. Soon after, she was teaching other girls who came once they saw how much fun she was having. It was impossible to get her off the red BMX bike she had decided was hers.

When we came back for the closing ceremony and race day, Angela beat out all of the competition for a stunning first place victory in the BMX races. Like a true Championne, she graciously accepted her pin, pinned it to her trousers, and bragged about it to all her friends.

At the One Day Workshop, Angela’s Mom bought her a red BMX bike just like the one she learned to ride on. L2R visits Akete from time to time, though it’s been a year since we were there for Learn to Ride. Whenever we are in town we see Angela on her red racer tearing up the main drag, and sometimes, she even lets Issak ride with her.

 

The Finish Line

Today was our last day with the Learn to Ride program at the Guadalupe School in Lunsar and yesterday was our last day in Port Loko.  We spent some time looking through the videos I’ve been taking on my camera of their progress and everyone took their turn to laugh at themselves and feel some pride about how far they’ve come.  In their final exercises, the girls faced off (two at a time) in bike races and they practiced riding through the obstacle course with only one hand on the handlebars.  I think it dawned on all the girls today that bike riding is actually fun!

All of the races were close but the ultimate victor was Warah who was pedaling like a maniac during all of her races.

It was sad to say goodbye to all of these girls I’ve gotten to know over the past four weeks but I’m also excited to meet our new groups next week.  We’ll be headed to Maronka on Monday and Konta Line on Tuesday to start L2R programs in each place.  Continuing to spread the love of biking across Sierra Leone . . .

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Village Bicycle Project
1915 11th Ave E
Seattle, WA 98102

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