The Bicycle: An Instrument of Opportunity

By Emily Major — December 23, 2013

imageThe act of being mobile is an inherent human experience. We take the ability to move for granted; not understanding the great privilege it is to navigate this earth at our very leisure. We are able to move ourselves across great distances through the many human inventions that have improved our lives. Where would we be had the wheel not been invented?

It is likely not much farther than wherever our evolutionary starting place might have been. Using this thesis, mobility is arguably the most important ingredient to the endurance and survival of the human race. Without it, we would be subject to the inconsistencies of weather and the environment, from drought to disease. The ability to move is without question, one of the most important reasons for why humans have come as far as we have.

Using a personal anecdote, I can recall when I first became aware of my mobility. One of my fondest memories as a young girl was when I received my first bike. It was a tacky 90’s edition, with pink and yellow comet stripes stickered on the pearly white frame. Pink tassels hung from the side and an ear-sore of a silver bell was positioned on my right handlebar. It had sturdy training wheels, though the wear-and-tear eventually turned the surface into the craters of the moon. But I did not care — it was my bike.


It gave me the freedom to traverse the unknown of my street, a landscape that I had only ever seen while gripping my mother’s hand tightly or by viewing it through the backseat of a car’s window. This bike gave me the freedom to wander around and get to places. I had friends that lived a few blocks down, and now I had the opportunity to find my own way there.

This was a time before predators lurked in our minds and kids had the freedom to simply bike down the street without fear that we would be snatched from our very own neighborhood. This mobility has privileged me with the ability to fly across the world in search of ever-changing dreams and aspirations. For me, it is hard to imagine my life without being mobile.

I began to wonder about those without cars, bicycles and airplane tickets to take them to the places that would benefit their lives. I came across a wonderful organization that works to provide others with a sustainable mode of transport that yields a powerful opportunity for freedom.

imageWorld Bicycle Relief (WBR) has stood out as a keystone organization that works to provide bicycles as eco-friendly sprouts of opportunity to hundreds of thousands of people across Africa and Southeast Asia. WBR was founded in 2005 by Leah Missbach Day and F.K. Day as a relief network to provide aid to those affected by the Indian Ocean Tsunami. They operate with a simple motive in mind: to give those the power and opportunity of the bicycle. The result of their hard work has been staggering.

Surveys state that WBR bicycles offer 5x the carrying capacity and 4x the distance when compared to walking. The difference of an extra hour could allow a child to finish their homework before they are expected to complete their chores or tend to the family. WBR works through several programs, such as micro-finance loans,volunteer, and donation programs. Those who benefit vary from students, doctors, teachers and those within the community.

At the current time, 163,465 bicycles have beengifted or purchased through the plethora of programs that WBR offers. The bicycles are built specifically for African terrain, strong enough and robust to handle even the mostunpredictable of landscapes. The benefits are never-ending.

The use of the bicycle has been paramount to the improvement of education in participating communities. On average, student attendance increased by 28% and grades have gone up a strong 59%. With the use of a bicycle, students garner more time to complete homework and to take part in their chores. What used to be an hour-long walk, has now been condensed into a 15 minute bike ride. Students alone are the recipients of over 50,000 bicycles. They either have had them donated or have earned them through certain youth programs. In many cases, students sign a form promising that the use of the bicycle is dependent on their attendance in school. Not only does this help the student get to and from school, their family can benefit by using the bicycle outside of school hours. The bicycle is an instrument of opportunity.

The prevalence of bicycles has also dramatically improved healthcare within communities. A survey done in 2012 has proven that the use of bicycles has doubled the attendance of children under 5 to clinics. They can also act as poverty relief to the AIDS crisis in some of these countries, Zambia in particular. The program RAPIDS (Reaching HIV/AIDS Affected People with Integrated Development and Support) has been incredibly successful in aiding patients, as well as their care-providers.

Starting in 2006, WBR collaborated with World Vision International to provide over 23,000 bicycles to volunteer healthcare workers who cared for those with HIV/AIDS. Now a trained professional can access many more people, ultimately improving quality of life for those affected. The gift of mobility directly improves access of healthcare for those individuals in need of life-saving treatment.

There is also a highly successful field mechanic program which works to train local people in the field of bicycle maintenance. The program is self-sufficient as it provides an income and keeps capital within the community. Though the bicycles are made with long-lasting and durable materials, they will, over time, be subjected to normal wear-and-tear. The branding of the spare parts is difficult to imitate, allowing for a reliable and honorable service that can build a strong enterprise for the mechanic.

WBR uses the “Buffalo” brand, which is directly modeled after the strength and power of the African buffalo. At press time, 913 field mechanics are currently operating in over a dozen countries. The gift of knowledge can extend much farther than the individualsphere; it has the ability to transcend to the entire community.

Lastly, the gift of bicycles are an eco-friendly, sustainable mode of transport. They are low-cost and have avery limited impact on the environment. Young children and adults are given opportunities to “earn” bicycles through the active improvement of their communities. WBR employs a“hand up, not out” approach, which directly affects the community. Students and children can partake in “tree-preneur” programs, where they can earn a bicycle through the care and maintenance of tree saplings. At this current rate of deforestation, our Earth deserves as many trees as we can offer her. Teaching young children the valuable lesson of sustainability can only improve the environment, in a time when she needs us the most.

World Bicycle Relief offers a long-lasting solution to combating poverty, environmental destruction and community welfare. In communities that are struggling from the plight of capitalist hunger, the opportunity of a bicycle could change the entire world. It is simple, yet sustainable.

It can improve access to healthcare, as well as to educational and economic opportunities. Your donation is matched dollar for dollar and it costs as little as $25 to purchase a wheel set for a mechanic. A mechanics toolkit is only $50 and an entire bicycle can be donated for just $134. There, of course, is an option to donate whatever amount, no matter how small. The impact is literally life-changing and for some, a $10 donation pays for the coffee one would buy each morning for a week. The only way humans are going to survive with each other is to realize that we must help and love each other above all. The problems of the world will not be solved by looking down; we must focus our time on helping those up. Be part of the movement and mobilize.

To learn more about this organization please click here.

Images Courtesy of Emily Major and World Bicycle Relief

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