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Sierra Leone Update

"Twenty five girls at two schools in Lunsar have learned to ride recently in our program there," reported Karim Kamara, Learn 2 Ride (L2R) instructor, back in July 2015. This program is run through BfW partner Village Bicycle Project which operates in Ghana and Sierra Leone. This marked an important step in the program as they got back on their feet after nearly a year of being closed.

Last year the Learn 2 Ride programs and bike library, which loans bicycles to students for school, shut down during the height of the Ebola outbreak. Bike donations from abroad to Sierra Leone halted. Maintenance classes within the country stopped.

Bike riding, however, increased.

October 2014: "Motor bike taxis are banned presently in Lunsar and in other places," said Karim. "This is the time people want to use bicycles. People are asking me every day about bicycles. I asked a guy, why did you want to buy a bicycle? He said, I don't think I can contract the Ebola virus because I'm not going to load anybody, only myself."

Back in September of last year taxis stopped carrying as many people as they had previously for fear of contracting the Ebola virus. So many people were dying everyone was afraid and avoiding contact with anyone. During a three day lock down, medical workers raced to distribute factual information about the disease and how to prevent the spread of the virus. Pamphlets and bars of soap were handed out.

Ramatu Sesay participated in the L2R program in Sierra Leone before it was temorarily shuttered. She used the bicycle library to borrow a bicycle that helped her get to school quickly and safely.

When she learned to ride a bicycle she was fourteen years old and about to start 10th grade at Konta-Line Secondary School. Her favorite subject is math.

Since her parents passed away years ago, she and her three siblings have lived with their aunt, who is a nurse. Ramatu enjoys learning and hopes to someday be a nurse just like her aunt. Riding to school saves Ramatu a lot of time so that she can study and focus on her dreams of becoming a nurse.

Health care is a great concern to many of the regions where our donated bikes are redistributed. Given the distances from central urban hubs, important information takes very long to reach some of these remote villages putting many lives at risk. When Ebola was killing thousands of villagers last September, outrageous rumors impeded the care of the sick and quite possibly contributed to the spread of the disease.

Some people had heard about so many people dying in the hospital that they associated the hospital with death and therefore many people refused to go. With so much fear and very little information some people spoke of witchcraft and sorcery behind the evil disease. Getting simple medical supplies such as surgical gloves and soap to villages miles away from the main town became imperative. Passing on important information on how to stay safe became a priority. With taxi drivers afraid to pick up passengers, the bicycle became an invaluable tool during this important fight.

The bicycle remains a reliable means of transportation and valuable tool in communication throughout many widespread rural communities even now that the Ebola cases have subsided. Seeing patients and delivering medicine and care great distances has always been a challenge among health professionals. Village Bicycle Project provides affordable bikes, maintenance classes, and teaches local mechanics skills that will keep those bikes running despite the rough, dirt terrain.

Now that classes have resumed it is incredibly important to continue reaching out to these villagers, teaching them to ride and how to care for their new bikes. To help mechanics get the program rolling again, Bikes for the World is facilitating the delivery of a container of bikes, and more importantly, tons of parts to help get this program back on its feet. The container will be half donated bikes and half donated parts from Citi Bike New York and will be our first ever shipment out of Long Island New York.

Teaching to Thrive
Mirriam Odura