VBP Trainer Karim Kamara shows an Advanced Class how to adjust derailleurs.

Bringing more long term depth to our programs, we have a recent growing emphasis on advanced training for bike owners and village repairers.  The Sierra Leone team, led by program coordinator Chris Harbert-Erceg, returned recently to Maforki, where we’ve done two previous programs over the last two years, awarding 40 bikes.

Two bike mechanics from the village were there, as well as the father of two girls borrowing VBP Library bikes for their 6 mile round-trip commute to junior high school.  The more people know how to take care of their bikes the better!

Abundance of VBP Donated Spare Parts Creates Business Opportunity in Freetown

Spent the afternoon with Ada and Frank, the wife and son of Richard, our importer in Sierra Leone.

Ada is running the parts shop that Richard had to open after our Seattle/Idaho  team sent a shipment half full of parts last summer, (more than 1000 cubic feet).

It took several weeks of help from volunteer Chris Harbert-Erceg to get the place organized enough to find the parts that people ask for.

Now the family is running what is surely the largest bicycle spare parts shop in the country.  Indeed, its probably the only second hand imported spare parts shop in the country.  As VBP followers know, second hand parts are widely known to be more durable than the new bling junk made in China.

Ada asked me for help with spokes, “People are always asking for them and I don’t know what to do.”

I’m certain that Ada’s interest in spokes had been sparked because another volunteer, Charlotte Fagan had taught her how to build wheels.  Ada then laced spokes for 20 wheels on her own.  Yes, Ada now knows how to build wheels!  That is fantastic!

So, seven year old Frank was sent out to collect a few of the abundantly discarded plastic drink bottles, and we cleaned them out, separated a pile of spokes by length, measured them, and put them into freshly labeled bottles.  Now bicycle repairers of Sierra Leone and neighboring Guinea have convenient access to the spokes they need to build and repair wheels.

I’m willing to bet that Richard’s family will soon have competition selling used parts, as others see how lucrative parts sales can be.  Its all good.

Dave

Dear Bikes Not Bombs,

Thank you so much for the container you sent to Sierra Leone!  Chris Harbert-Erceg and I, Kimberly Reid, are currently volunteering from the US in Sierra Leone with the Village Bicycle Project.  We just wanted to let you know that the container arrived safely and was unloaded on the evening of April 9th.  Unloading here typically occurs at night because there is less traffic and fewer people around, so there is a lower probability that one of the bicycles will “walk away”.  We started the process at 9pm and finished a little after 1am with approximately 12 people continuously working and several others rotating in and out and keeping their eyes on the equipment to make sure it was safe.  The unloaded happened on Kissy Road which is one of the main and busiest roads in Sierra Leone’s capital city, Freetown. It is also the location of our importer Richard’s bike shop where we are storing this shipment of bicycles.  Traffic on this two lane road had to be directed around us as we started the 4+ hour unloading process.  This unload was also interesting because the electricity in the city was not working so several of us had headlamps while others carried flashlights so we could see what we were doing.  Freetown often does not have power, and this power outage had been going on for about a week already.   Originally we were going to use a generator to turn on the lights in the shop, but we discovered that there was a leak in its fuel tank!  Since there is also a fuel shortage going on here currently, making the price of fuel high, buying more fuel that may also leak out did not seem like a great option. As people say a lot here “we managed” and were able to unload “no problem”.  The shop is now piled high with bicycles and equipment and we are excited to use them to do more programming throughout the country.  Forty of the bicycles have already been shipped to Lunsar, Sierra Leone (about a three hour drive from Freetown) to be fixed up and used in our one-day workshop programs.  The solar panel also arrived in one piece and is also in Lunsar waiting to be set-up.

As I’ve discovered in the past two months of volunteering here, life in Africa can be very challenging, but bicycles really can make a huge difference.  Thank you so much for everything you do and for helping the Village Bicycle Project to exist.  Your efforts are greatly appreciated and are making large impacts in Sierra Leone.  We also want to add that we just heard about the recent bombings in Boston and want you to know that we are thinking of you in this difficult time. Chris and I are still somewhat in shock ourselves that this horrific act happened and hope that you are taking the necessary time to start the healing process.  Unfortunately it shows that organizations like yours are still very much needed and there is still a lot of work to be done.  Once again thank you for all that you do and please know that we are thinking about you.

We’ve attached a few pictures from our unloading and please feel free to use them as you’d like.  Also, if you’d like to know anything about the container or our programming in Sierra Leone, please do not hesitate to contact us at feet926@gmail.com or narcohypnia@gmail.com.

Thanks again,

Kimberly Reid and Chris Harbert-Erceg

Village Bicycle Project

News from Salone

We currently have three ! volunteers in Sierra Leone, scaling up our programs there.  Chris Harbert-Erceg is about four months into a twelve-month stay.  His focus is on our One-day repair workshops for discounted bikes, (like Ghana), but he’s also simply our all-around programs coordinator.

Also in Salone, we have a Learn-to-Ride program in the schools, teaching girls how to ride.  And, for those who live far from school, we have Bicycle Libraries loaning bikes to students.  Volunteer Charlotte Fagan, who arrived on News Years Eve, is improving L2R and the Libraries.  She joins us for a three-month stint on a Watson Fellowship.  Previously she led programs to empower women with bicycles in Quito, Ecuador.  While a very different experience, Charlotte is a great asset to our SL programs.

Chris recently sent us some photos!  from Lunsar, where most of our school programs are centered.

Adamasay is one of the recipients of a library bike from A.D. Wurie secondary school. She used to walk 6 miles each direction to school.

Adamasay is one of the recipients of a library bike from A.D. Wurie secondary school. She used to walk 6 miles each direction to school.

Basitah is one of the kindergartners at Guadalupe primary, participating in Learn-to-Ride there. Once she has mastered balance and steering, we’ll put the pedals back on. Now in our fourth year at Guadalupe, we’ve taught dozens of little ones to ride, a skill that stays with them.

Basitah is one of the kindergartners at Guadalupe primary, participating in Learn-to-Ride there. Once she has mastered balance and steering, we’ll put the pedals back on. Now in our fourth year at Guadalupe, we’ve taught dozens of little ones to ride, a skill that stays with them.

Fatmata on day one of Learn-to-Ride at AD Wurie secondary school.

Fatmata on day one of Learn-to-Ride at AD Wurie secondary school.

Awarding five Library bikes at The Door Secondary school. Pictured are L2R instructor Kadiatu Kabia, (far left), VBP bike mechanic and trainer Karim Kamara (in the red shirt), and at far right, Kim Reid, our newest L2R volunteer.

Awarding five Library bikes at The Door Secondary school. Pictured are L2R instructor Kadiatu Kabia, (far left), VBP bike mechanic and trainer Karim Kamara (in the red shirt), and at far right, Kim Reid, our newest L2R volunteer.

Peckham Arrives in Sierra Leone

I just reached Sierra Leone, where I’m meeting our Ghana Programs Coordinator Jason Finch and our fall volunteer Joe Diomede, with the stated goal of scaling up our Sierra Leone program towards matching the output of our Ghana program.

Since 2009 we have held programs here during 6 to 8 weeks each year, using short-term volunteers and myself to provide the logistical glue to complete the one-day program (modeled after Ghana) and distribute the bikes.  With Joe committed to 3 months, and Jason’s intensive six months of work with the Ghana team, we think this may just be the opportunity to pull all the parts together so that our SL team can hold programs year-round.

Joe has extensive background in the bicycle business, having twice owned bike shops. He also recently published a book of his world travels, Cycles of a Traveler, a multi-modal transnavigation of the globe, much of it by bicycle.

Sierrs Leone’s need for bicycles is dramatic.  Despite expecting to have the fastest growing GDP worldwide in 2012, at 36% this growth tells us mostly that Sierra Leone has been extremely stagnant.  The growth is from huge iron ore mining operations that is not trickling down much to the average person.

REQUEST FOR TANDEM BICYCLES

I ran into the organizer of one of our rural programs from last year.  He reminded me of his request for tandem bicycles to help the many people afflicted with river blindness.  I hope that some of you can help get some bicycles-built-for-two to Maforki, Sierra Leone.  Please contact us if you have a tandem to donate!

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