Port Loko Bike Library
In rural parts of Sierra Leone access to a bike can make all the difference. This is especially true for kids who often trek long distances to school. Rather than focusing on one specific school, the Bai Bureh Heritage Foundation in Port Loko decided to take a different approach. They knew from community members and teachers that a handful of students from different schools in the Port Loko region were traveling exceptionally far distances to get their education.
This was clearly a challenge for the kids as some were walking about six miles each way to school, often arriving late. This also presented a challenge for their families as rural life in Sierra Leone is very much a communal reality with kids helping out with daily chores. It's not that parents want to push their kids, it's that clean water, the local market, their farm fields and other community assets are often spread out in differing directions. This means all hands on deck, all the time!
The Port Loko Bai Bureh Heritage Foundation, an all volunteer association, decided that it was worth the financial investment in their community's youth to propose a community-backed bike library that would provide bikes to select students in the district who were traveling the furthest to attain their education.
The Foundation knew about Village Bicycle Project because of several bike shops supported by VBP in Port Loko. This led them to approach VBP for an initial allotment of 15 bikes that would be owned by the Foundation and lent to students only during the school term.
We were fortunate to be present at the initial distribution of these 15 bikes. Before any bikes were handed over, all of the students who had been selected received a ½ day of bike safety & maintenance education from Jak, VBP. Also in mandatory attendance were the parents of students who were to receive the bikes.
The work that both VBP and the Bai Bureh Heritage Foundation put into the concept of the bike library is quite impressive. The Foundation will retain the bikes in perpetuity and be able to lend them to future in-need students down the road. Port Loko hopes to expand this program to 1,000 bikes in the coming years. That is a pretty amazing goal considering that prior to 2018 bikes were uncommon in the district. It was then that VBP first established a foothold in Port Loko and discovered an untapped need & demand for bikes.