I spent the afternoon of my rest day in Lusaka, Zambia with Kristin and Brian of World Bicycle Relief. I visited their operations center and than met some people who have had their lives changed by the bikes provided by World Bicycle Relief. It was an eye opening experience and helped give me a better understanding of their efforts.
I first learned of World Bicycle Relief through the Wrigley Field Road Tour, a century ride that starts at Wrigley Field in Chicago and ends at Miller Park in Milwaukee WI. It was a great ride on familiar roads. Even with the added bonus of hours riding in the rain, it was a fantastic time. I was enthused at how tangible a benefit World Bicycle Relief provides. A $134 donation equals one bike to a person or child that is in need. For each 20 bikes distributed they train someone to repair them.
My visit began with a conversation with Brian, the WBR Country Director for Zambia. He explained a number of the programs that WBR is currently engaged in and some new ones that they are testing. The amount of different ways they distribute bikes was new to me. I had assumed donors donated and those bikes were distributed to young girls to get to school or healthcare workers to visit people in need, but this was only part of the the way bikes made it into the hands of people. People and organizations can buy the bikes, WBR partners with a micro-loan organization to finance the purchase of the bikes, and other organizations are purchasing bikes for use in their programs. WBR has some excellent organization in the way the community and schools are engaged in the bicycle use and tracking the effect the bicycles are having on the area. He was very candid about some of the challenges they face. Brian was also very descriptive of his life growing up in Zambia and experiencing the difficulties in rural Zambia.
We next hit the road for a Chonga to meet Albert, a young entrepreneur. It was a bit odd to be in a car at highway speeds again. I hadn’t been in many cars other than a couple cabs and tuk tuks in 3 months. Albert began as a mechanic of WBR bicycles and has grown that into an expanding bike shop business on the verge of moving into a larger space for the 2nd time in a few years. He has since diversified to building some rental properties to house students at the local high school as well.
A walk through the edge of the market area brought us to Joe, a farmer, livestock middleman, political pundit, and storyteller. He purchased a number of bikes through a micro-loan program for small businesses. He started his business by biking further out in to the surrounding area, buying goats, than carrying them into the city for sale. An 80K day was not unusual. Joe could tell a story and our conversation flowed from his cycling, to how he moved around trying to make a living, to sending his children to school, to the way in which the 72 tribes are the political parties in Zambia (and why his should have the next president). Joe always had a friendly laugh no matter the subject.
Thank you to Brain, Kristin, and David for being such great hosts for a tired cyclist, They really went to great lengths to make me feel welcome, see WBR, and get me ready to hit the road again the following day. Hope I can make it back one day to see even greater success.