The Village Bicycle Project (VBP) transports donated used bikes and provides bicycle repair training and new tools to help bicycles become a sustainable transportation choice for thousands of people in Africa, where over 99% of the population cannot afford cars.
The Village Bicycle Project, begun in 1999 by former Peace Corps volunteer David Peckham, is arguably the largest bicycle reuse program in Africa, distributing more than 54,000 bicycles to working people on the continent over the last decade. The relationship with Bikes for the World dates to Bikes for the World's start in early 2005; since then, BfW has provided nearly 11,000 bikes to VBP, making it VBP's second-largest donor (behind our Boston-based sister organization, Bikes Not Bombs).
VBP delivers bicycles to urban and rural users, but with a particular focus on rural development through providing targeted training and sales. Working in partnership with Peace Corps volunteers and other rural change agents, VBP trainers (former teachers and bike mechanics Samson Ayine and George Aidoo) provide intensive instruction to teachers, health workers, agricultural extension workers, and other village-level workers in bicycle maintenance (and sometimes even riding!). Individuals who complete the course gain access to a reconditioned bicycle at a discounted price. Training is coordinated with local bike mechanics to distribute tools, also at below-cost prices, and strengthen market linkages.
VBP's focus during its first decade has been in Ghana. However, the agency recently began a new initiative in neighboring Sierra Leone, a nation recovering from a decade-long civil war that had decimated the country's human, physical, and economic infrastructure. Bikes for the World made an initial shipment of 436 bicycles to the country in January 2012, and expects to make additional shipments in the future. The introduction of bicycles and related training is particularly timely and appropriate in bringing Sierra Leone's rural poor into the recovery process, strengthening access to work and education.
The bicycle offers positive change and development to villagers who use them for health, wealth, and education. Bicycles improve access to farms, markets, jobs, schools, and healthcare in developing nations. Riding a bike is four times as fast as walking, often the only choice for millions of Africans. A rare, prized bike, often shared within a family or among villager, greatly improves their lives and increases their economic future.
Many rural children in Ghana walk miles each day to get to school. Bicycles enable children in remote villages to get to school quicker--a quarter of the time spent walking--and sometimes keep them in school when they would otherwise drop out. Students are typically less tired in the classroom and able to concentrate better on their studies. Time savings permits the student to do household chores and helps the family become more productive as a whole. By covering more ground in less time, young people--especially girls--also enjoy greater personal safety on long, often-remote roads.
In all, VBP has distributed 54,000 bikes and taught bike maintenance and repair skills to 11,000 individuals in Ghana and Sierra Leone, and distributed more than 18,000 bike tools in 13 African countries.
One element that characterizes the VBP program--and which has enabled it to deliver such a large number of bikes and which evidences its positive impacyt--is that it is market-based and financially self-supporting through the in-country sale of a significant portion of the bicycles.
Income from sales is an indicator of positive impact. If people did not enjoy some benefit, why would they pay for a bicycle??
While some may object to selling and not giving away bikes to individuals, this practice has further and multiple benefits. Selling bikes channels them to most productive use. It also builds the underlying commercial infrastructure of sales and service that is essential to long-term development and bringing people into an efficient market. Giving away bikes undermines individual efficiency, condems a program to remaining small and impermanent, and undermines the market, setting back development.
Selling bikes finances the shipment of more bikes, pays for the purchase of tools (such as pumps and wrenches), and pays for training to increase the life of a bike in extreme conditions, all of which constitute essential constituents of the VBP model. Microloans are also available to help with the cost of a bicycle. The increased productivity that a bicycle brings to a family enables a borrower to repay a loan quickly with the increased wages.
Because VBP can pay the expenses of shipping, Bikes for the World can spend less time on fundraising and focus its efforts on increasing the value and utility of shipments. Besides shipping the types of bikes that are most appropriate for the rural African environment, Bikes for the World also routinely includes valuable tools and spare parts, both new and used, to support VBP's training and fundraising program.
Alex is from Bodaa, Ghana, on the western border with the Ivory Coast. The soil is good, and most people in this town of about a thousand souls are farmers. This means that the community is spread out, and people walk to get any place, spending valuable time.
Alex is a 43-year-old cocoa farmer. His farm is about 8 km out of town and he used to have to walk that distance and back, often daily. Now, he can ride his bicycle, saving 2-3 hours every day. When available, his wife sometimes rides the bicycle to the farm as well. Owning and using a bike saves the family time and energy, and makes life a lot more productive.
Nyameyie is from Princesstown, Ghana, at the end of a wretched gravel road 18 kilometers from the main coastal highway. The road is so bad that taxis won't go there unless you pay 10 times the standard rate. For several weeks during the rainy season, the road is washed out and the town is cut off entirely.
Nyameyie farms four miles from his home in Pricesstown. His bike will make it much easier to get to farm where he grows cassava, pineapple, and plantain. The surplus produce he sells at Princesstown market. Without a bike, he carried his produce on his back while walking from farm to market. Now that he has a bike, he plan to buy a carrier to make it easier to carry produce from the farm.
Ibrahim Mormori is from Konjiahi, Ghana. He is 70 years old and still farming. cHis farm is four miles away from his home and his main method of transportation before owning a bike was walking.
Ibrahim finds the bicycle good for going to the farm because his knees hurt when he walked the eight mile round trip. Now that he rides a bike he feels fine after the commute. He received his bicycle the day this picture was taken and said the first thing he would do is get a rack so he can carry heavy loads to and from the farm.
Bikes provide power and opportunity, allowing people to lift themselves from poverty. Riding a bike is four times faster than walking, the only choice for millions of Africans. People with bikes get to schools, markets, farms and health care in one-fourth of the time walking, improving their lives and economic futures.
Suzana Guo lives in Hain, northwest Ghana. She brews her own beer for the popular bar she runs out of her home. She uses her bike to transport millet from her farm to the mill for grinding, and brings the ground millet back to her bar for brewing. Suzana shares her bike with her family, providing everyone with transportation.