This is a guest post written by Ruth-Anne Renaud who recently joined the team at World Bicycle Relief as director of global marketing. Her bio is located at the end of this post.
I distinctly remember the Christmas I received my first bike. It was sparkly blue, with a banana seat, training wheels and a basket. I knew it would take me everywhere once the snow melted. This fall, new memories have been imprinted on my heart on what it means to receive a bike.
Destination: Zambia, Africa. I had just started my new role as Director of Global Marketing at World Bicycle Relief (WBR) and I participated in one of our immersion trips called Africa Rides. Together with about a dozen supporters and partners – I spent a week learning how a bicycle can transform the lives of students, healthcare workers, entrepreneurs and their communities.
At the outset of the trip, we spent a day at WBR’s Zambia headquarters to learn about the scale of the bike distribution program, the criteria for selecting field partners and recipients, and the deliberate, yet simple rugged design of the innovative Buffalo Bike. In fact – we had to assemble our own Buffalo Bike.
It was a daunting task since I’m not particularly mechanically inclined. But I am proud to share – after a successful quality control check – I rode that bike over the next several days with our group of Africa Rides travelers visiting villages and schools. I physically experienced the searing mid-day heat, the distance and rugged dirt paths that felt like they were never quite going to end – to get to school, back home or to get water from an isolated well. I felt what it meant to be constantly chasing daylight.
A key focus of World Bicycle Relief’s work is providing bicycles to students – with a focus on girl students. I love this aspect of our work for so many reasons. First and foremost the biggest barrier for students to get and stay in school – is distance – often 2 to 5 or even more miles each way to get to school. For girls, getting to school is also complicated by the burdens of completing household chores like gathering water, firewood and caring for family animals as soon as the sun rises, so many girls are forced to drop out of school by grade six. Working in concert with the Ministry of Education in Zambia, WBR’s Bicycle Education and Empowerment Program is making headway against these challenges. The program requires that 70% of the bicycles go to girl students and that sends a powerful message affirming the value of girls, the power of an education, and the potential of a brighter future for the entire community.
If you think about it in the most direct and tangible way – the effect of one bike is powerful. The Buffalo Bike is an asset to a young girl. The value of that asset increases her value in the home. She can get her tasks done more efficiently. She can now get to school and be ready to learn. She can even help her siblings get to school. Her father can use the bike to get product to market. Her mother can use the bike to get water. The family dynamic shifts and her value in the family shifts. In essence – this is an intervention into a community, changing perception, value and opportunity.
Now multiply it – not just one bike – but hundreds of bikes provided to a specific school. On Wednesday of our Africa Rides trip – all of this came together for me. We participated in a WBR Bicycle Education and Empowerment Program distribution ceremony. Over 200 bikes, each one assigned to a student who committed to and signed a 2-year “study to earn” bike contract, witnessed by her family and entire community.
My heart was already full seeing the ceremony unfold and yet there was more to come. I spent the afternoon with Grace, a 13-year old girl who shared with me that she was the 2nd of four children and that receiving a bike would enable her to stay in school. She softly told me, “I want to study and become a teacher”. Together, we rode our bikes that afternoon on rugged paths to the far remote edges of the community to visit another student’s home. Along the way, I asked Grace if she knew any songs we could sing…and imprinted on my heart is the sound of her sweet, increasingly strong voice raised in a song about giving thanks.
The bike’s reach goes further into the community beyond Grace, her family, and school. Mechanics are trained to maintain the Buffalo Bikes, creating local employment. You’ve not just changed one young girl’s life but the lives of those around her. Her community now has a higher likelihood to create a better and more sustainable future.
One bike donated (just $134), multiplies the impact on the community five times. A very simple tool – a simple form of transport. For Grace and her community a ripple effect of change has been started. I truly believe it is magical when you realize you can provide a bicycle (much stronger and better than my sparkly blue bike with a banana seat) and be part of this cycle of joy and opportunity.
Consider the new bicycle memories you can make this holiday season….
Learn more about World Bicycle Relief’s work and the stories of students like Grace. Double your impact – now through year-end, all gifts will be matched dollar for dollar up to $1 million. Be part of this ripple effect of change.
Ruth-Anne Renaud recently joined the team at World Bicycle Relief as director of global marketing. She brings a combination of over 20 years experience in corporate and non-profit marketing and fundraising with a strong focus on social justice issues on a local to global stage. Ruth-Anne’s belief in the #PowerOfBicycles as a tool for education and social change has resulted in completing multiple 100-mile charity rides to benefit World Bicycle Relief. Together with her husband, they have raised over $40,000 and look forward to many more miles and the impact on the path ahead.
About World Bicycle Relief:
World Bicycle Relief is dedicated to mobilizing people through The Power of Bicycles®. World Bicycle Relief accomplishes its mission by designing, manufacturing and distributing high quality bicycles that withstand the challenging terrain and conditions in rural Africa. Entrepreneurs use the bikes to increase productivity and profits. Students with bikes attend class more regularly and academic performance dramatically improves. And, health care workers with bikes visit more patients, more often, providing better, more consistent care. World Bicycle Relief also promotes local economies and long-term sustainability by assembling bicycles in Africa and training over 1,000 field mechanics. Since 2005, World Bicycle Relief has delivered over 200,000 bicycles. For more information, please visit: www.worldbicyclerelief.org / Follow us @PowerOfBicycles and Like us at facebook.com/worldbicyclerelief