Can bikes change the world? That’s a question we like to ask a lot.
Here’s yet another example of bikes making a significant difference, this time via World Bicycle Relief. Last week in the New York Times, Nicholas Kristof wrote a pretty touching piece about the effect that WBR is having in the developing world.
Early this year I wrote a column from Zimbabwe that focused on five orphans who moved in together and survive alone in a hut.
The eldest, Abel, a scrawny and malnourished 17-year-old, would rise at 4 o’clock each morning and set off barefoot on a three-hour hike to high school. At nightfall, Abel would return to function as surrogate father: cajoling the younger orphans to finish their homework by firelight, comforting them when sick and spanking them when naughty.
When I asked Abel what he dreamed of, he said “a bicycle” — so that he could cut the six hours he spent walking to and from school and, thus, take better care of the younger orphans. Last week, Abel got his wish. A Chicago-based aid organization, World Bicycle Relief, distributed 200 bicycles to students in Abel’s area who need them to get to school. One went to Abel.
The initiative is a pilot. If it succeeds and finds financing, tens of thousands of other children in Zimbabwe could also get bicycles to help them attend school.
“I’m happy,” Abel told me shyly — his voice beaming through the phone line — when I spoke to him after he got his hands on his bicycle.
WBR has given out more than 70,000 bicycles so far. But why are bikes so powerful when it comes to development? As Kristof puts it, “it’s an example of an aid intervention that puts a system in place, one that is sustainable and has local buy-in, in hopes of promoting education, jobs and a virtuous cycle out of poverty.”
What are your favorite bike organizations?
You can read the whole article here.