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Volunteer group donates 100th container of pedal power
Posted by Kristi Heim
Ten years ago a group of Northwest volunteers sent their first container of bicycles to Ghana. Now the Village Bicycle Project is preparing to send its 100th container, having delivered 45,000 bikes and 15,000 tools and trained more than 7,000 people how to use them.
The program was started in Ghana after the country removed import duties on bicycles in the mid-90s. The goal is to improve lives of people in rural areas who would otherwise have to walk hours each day.
MARY JAYNE CASSIDY
The group collects donated bikes from all over the world, but many of its core supporters are in Seattle, including Bike Works. On Saturday, the all-volunteer organization will be loading its next container in the Georgetown neighborhood of Seattle and is looking for help to collect bikes, take them apart and pack the container.
Village Bicycle Project pays for the cost of shipping by selling bikes that are in good condition through two partners in Accra, said board member Meg Watson. Those partners set aside one-third of the bikes for the training programs in villages and sell the rest wholesale from their storefront shop.
Once bikes are trucked to villages, free training classes are held to maintain and repair bicycles. People who participate the training can then purchase one of the bikes for about $20, half the normal price, Watson said.
"Selling bikes is part of a development model that prevents bikes being horded by the powerful, and makes them more available to those who can best use it to improve their economic circumstances," she said.
The project works with Peace Corps volunteers, who host its programs, and has reached about 60 communities throughout Ghana. It also holds advanced repair workshops to train people to set up small repair businesses.
The next step is increasing the number of women in the program and expanding to Sierra Leone, Watson said. About 30 percent of the participants are women. In Sierra Leone, where volunteer Brittany Richardson recently taught 500 school girls how to ride bikes.
"The people of Sierra Leone were begging for bikes from Brittany, so we are sure an eager market awaits us," Watson said.
Guidelines for how to donate bikes can be found here.
The ARAS Foundation of Sammamish has collected more than 2,500 bikes for the project and has a bicycle drop-off event on May 15. For more information: www.villagebicycleproject.org
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