Posted by: Dominique le Roux | September 28, 2011

How to bring hope and a future

This past weekend’s participation of Lesotho cyclists in the finals of the South African schools mountain bike league is an exciting endorsement of the work done by BikeTown Africa in Maseru last month. Not only did these riders participate on quality bikes donated by BikeTown Africa, but they know there is a whole bunch of other riders nipping at their heels, being trained up on the bikes donated and the course built.

Lesotho's young riders show off their new bicycles at the finals of the Spur Mountain Bike League in South Africa

As sweaty and dirt-covered as the riders might have been at the end of their race, it couldn’t compare with that of the BikeTown Africa volunteers who toiled to build the track, assemble the donated bikes and organize the first of the planned series of mountain bike events just one month ago. It was hard toil, but what a reward!

Here’s BikeTown Africa’s recipe for achieving the success that this weekend has displayed.

Posted by: Dominique le Roux | August 25, 2011

From Dustbowl to Action Arena

A dry and dusty field colored more by litter than by hope.

This was the scene that greeted the BikeTown Africa volunteers as, jetlagged, they disembarked from the small bus that had fetched them from the aiport. This large, slightly-sloped tract of dried-out grassland slap-bang in the middle the Lesotho capital of Maseru certainly didn’t look anything like an Olympic training ground. Little did we know that things would only get worse: the wind would rise and the dust with it.

But three days later, this would be the venue of an event of such passion and potential, of such exuberant response from Maseru’s children, that few of us would be able to keep a dry eye, and none would be able to wipe the grins from our faces.

The plan for BikeTown Africa Lesotho was for three days of sweat and toil: two days of hard labour in which we would build a mountain bike course and BMX track, assemble the 33 bicycles being donated as well as visit the local schools. The third would see us organizing the first of what would become a series of mountain bike races in the capital of Africa’s Mountain Kingdom. Quite a tall order, I thought initially.

Clearly I had lacked faith. What that small team achieved in that short space of time was nothing short of remarkable. (I take no credit, as I was running around holding a camera while they were all digging and raking, carrying rocks and clearing bush.) Hands more familiar with keyboards than shovels simply set to work. And local children – some of them less than waist-high – jumped in and joined us without even knowing what the end goal was.

We moved dirt. We shaped it. We raked it. We packed it down. We built jumps and bumps and berms.

And we built bicycles: 28 single-speeds that would be available for local children to take turns in using, and 5 higher-end mountain bikes that will be awarded to the best of Maseru’s cyclists at the end of the season.

And then we built enthusiasm, visiting local schools and encouraging the kids to come and participate in the racing series.

And participate they did. Hundreds and hundreds of children arrived on Event Day. Most of them neatly turned out in their school uniforms. Many of them never having previously ridden a bicycle before. But they pressed in to register, and they pressed on as they got their chances to ride, very few giving up even after many a tumble on this rather daunting course.

And we, the volunteers, stood around grinning. Grinning almost as widely as the president of the country’s Olympic Committee who understood the true transformation of this desolate dustbowl into a seedbed of hope and future champions.

Posted by: biketownafrica | July 14, 2011

BikeTown Africa selects Lesotho for 2011

Expanding on the work of previous years, BikeTown Africa heads to the mountain kingdom of Lesotho in 2011 to provide cycling resources and equipment for the youth of this small Southern African country.

“In 2011 we wanted to do something a bit different. In the past we’ve worked with healthcare workers, with orphans and with farmers. This year we’ve decided to invest in children’s mountain biking at a grassroots level,” explains project manager Bradley Schroeder.

As in previous years, BikeTown Africa will be partnering with existing organisations to further their needs and effectiveness, in this case the Lesotho Cycling Association and the African Mountain Biking Association, both of which are already working to develop the sport of mountain biking at a youth level.

In terrain, Lesotho is Africa’s equivalent of Switzerland, yet financially it is one of the poorest countries in the world. Dominated by inaccessible mountains, it has the highest low point of any country in the world – over 80% of the country lies above 5,000 ft – making it an ideal mountain biking location. However, about 40% of the population live below the international poverty line of US$1.25 a day and thus almost none can afford bicycles.

With the Olympic training grounds in the heart of the capital, Maseru, earmarked as the venue, BikeTown Lesotho will see the building of an approximately three-mile track and the set-up of the first of a calendar of events in which local children will be given access to the sport and can compete to earn their own bicycles.

BikeTown Lesotho will take place from 21 to 25 August, with volunteers spending time at local schools, teaching children how to ride bicycles, and pitching in with picks and shovels to shape the track. The third day will see them helping with the organisation of the first mountain bike race in the new series, which is envisioned to motivate youngsters to improve their biking skills and to focus on healthy lifestyles free of drugs and HIV.

Accommodation for BikeTown Lesotho volunteers will be at the four-star Lesotho Sun hotel, beautifully situated on a hilltop overlooking the city. Access is via direct flights to Maseru, or to Bloemfontein, South Africa, a two-hour drive away.

For more information, email Bradley Schroeder: biketownafrica@gmail.com

Posted by: biketownafrica | October 28, 2010

Partner with a mother and child at BikeTown Rwanda

The latest news on BikeTown Rwanda is that each foreign participant will be paired with a mother and child team and will help to sponsor both the mother and child’s transportation, food & lodging.

Together, BikeTown Africa and Foundation Rwanda have the the opportunity to build bikes alongside a Foundation Rwanda mother-and-child team. The Foundation Rwanda mother/child team will take the bike home with them, which will enable the child to travel to school and the mother to pick up life-saving medications from the village clinic.

For those not familiar with Foundation Rwanda’s work or mission:

In February of 2006, photojournalist Jonathan Torgovnik traveled to East Africa to report on a story for Newsweek Magazine about the 25th year anniversary of the inception of HIV/AIDS. While in Rwanda, Jonathan heard the testimony of Odette, a genocide survivor who was raped and impregnated during the war, resulting in her contracting HIV/AIDS and giving birth to her child. 
Later that year, Jonathan returned to Rwanda and discovered that there are an estimated 20,000 children who were born as a result of sexual crimes during the genocide and these children need help.

Children born of rape during the Rwandan genocide are not able to access the support to which survivors are entitled, as they were technically born after the genocide. Further, these children and their mothers are often shunned by their villages and families due to the stigma of rape and “having a child of a militia.” These traumatized mothers are unable to pay for their children’s educational needs, specifically the annual $350 to attend secondary school, and the cycle of poverty continues. Foundation Rwanda was created to sponsor education for these children, and to provide trauma counseling and income generating activities for their mothers.

All of these children are turning 16 years old and do not know the circumstances surrounding their birth. The BikeTown Africa/Foundation Rwanda bike build is a very special opportunity for these families to take part in a positive activity together.  Each foreign participant will be paired with a mother and child team and will help sponsor both the mother and child’s transportation, food & lodging. We hope you’ll understand that the cost for this trip is $1075 which is slightly higher than our other trips for this reason.

Posted by: biketownafrica | September 16, 2010

Dates for BikeTown Africa 2010

BikeTown Africa needs you! (No experience required.)

After much anticipation, we have now firmed up the dates for this year’s BikeTown Africa builds and handovers in Malawi and Rwanda, and we’d like to invite volunteers to join us as we assemble the bicycles and meet the recipients whose work will benefit from them.

BikeTown Malawi: 1-3 November 2010

BikeTown Rwanda: 6-8 December 2010

The Malawi build will take place in Lilongwe, the capital, with 120 Kona Africabikes being donated to Tingathe Baylor Community Outreach Program.

In this small East African country, over 30,000 infants contract HIV from mother to child transmission. Of these children, over 50% will die before the age of two years, and over 75% will die before the age of seven. Tragically, despite the widespread availability of life-saving prevention and treatment modalities in Malawi, most HIV-exposed and infected infants do not access the care they need. To help change this situation, Baylor Malawi initiated a community outreach program called “Tingathe”, meaning “yes we can” in the local Chichewa language. Tingathe empowers and trains Malawians to serve as community health workers (CHWs) within their own communities.

The Rwanda build is also in the capital, Kigali, and likewise 120 Kona Africabikes are also being donated, in this case to Foundation Rwanda, whose mission is to provide funding for the secondary school education of children born from rape during the 1994 genocide, link their mothers to existing psychological and medical services, and create awareness about the consequences of genocide and sexual violence through photography and new media.

For more information on the details and costs, email the project manager, Bradley Schroeder.

Posted by: Dominique le Roux | August 30, 2010

One bike makes a difference

Carol, Scotty and Gretchen show their BikeTown Africa colours

BikeTown Africa truly does forge relationships across continents – and not just between the donors and the recipients. When Gretchen Pendleton, Scotty Perkins and Carol Williamson recently held a reunion for those of us who had met at last year’s BikeTown Africa build in Orange Farm, South Africa, it was only that small matter of the cost of a transatlantic flight that prevented me and the other South Africans from flitting across to join them. Our hearts were certainly there, though.

The invitation was for dinner and a ride: several Bicycling magazine readers (including the three ‘BTA alums’), would be gathering for dinner on Saturday August 21 in Royersford, Pa for a pre-charity bike ride dinner at Gretchen’s home, and then all would participate in a Livestrong ride the next day.

Gretchen explains: “Scotty mentioned 2-3 months ago he was doing 3 of the 4 Livestrong rides. I promised cookies and steak if he would do the 4th one in Philadelphia, as he knew  Carol and me, and other friends.  So he booked the trip and landed Friday before the ride on the 22nd.  Carol picked him up, we did the hand off Friday night over ice cream, spent the weekend with us and we did our respective parts of the ride on Sunday. I did a 30 mile version with a friend, Carol did the 45 miles trip and Scotty manned up and did the century, all 6000+ feet of elevation.”

The trio’s facebook updates got me reminiscing about the two BikeTown Africa builds Carol and I have been on. I asked Gretchen what her one single most powerful abiding memory of BikeTown Orange Farm was. “Probably my biggest ‘take away’ was that ONE bike makes a difference.  To the life of the health carer, to the patient, to the patient’s family, to the carer’s family and to those that are on the periphery who are involved.  And that as a participant in BTA, I can make a difference. It is not about me, but the fact that I am involved in a program that gives people a new dimension in their life is just amazing.

“When I got back home I wrote a letter to the Bicycling Editor to the effect that I will give serious thought to the question of upgrading my current bike (which is perfectly capable) just for the sake of upgrading, because I see what  a difference ONE bike makes to many lives. And do I really need to upgrade my road bike that I use for recreation, not for my livelihood?  Can I put my money to better use?  Will mull on that for years I suspect.”

Call me an emotional female, but the part of Gretchen’s mail that had me all teary and yet very inspired was the part where she spoke about the impact of BikeTown Africa on her own life: “The timing and my trip to Orange Farm was in between jobs. And while there I realized I wanted to do something more with my life, when it came to my next job. After an 8-month hiatus, I was able to land a job in a hospital as the chief HR person and have found in 3 short months that the mission of the hospital and my role there can make a difference in people’s lives, including my own.  It was my experience in South Africa that opened my eyes to the possibilities in life, to putting life in perspective, and knowing that there is more to life than in my own little world, my own comfort zone.”

Posted by: biketownafrica | August 10, 2010

Sign up for a bike build in Gambia in September

In September this year BikeTown Africa will be assembling 225 Kona AfricaBikes in Gambia, to be distributed to children in the rural parts of this West African country. We are looking for volunteers to assist in the building and handing over of these bikes.

Most villages have a primary school, but secondary schools are spaced farther apart, with no public transportation and rarely a motorized vehicle. Middle and high school children walk to and from school every day, often as far as 7 miles each way. A bike can reduce a two-hour walk to a 30-minute ride.

Girls may especially benefit from the AfricaBikes, as they are frequently kept home from school to do chores such as sweeping, gathering wood, carrying water and pounding rice. If they spend less time getting to and from school, and as a result have more time for their chores, their parents may allow them to be educated. Half of the bikes are allocated to go to girls, so perhaps they will not have to choose between their family obligations and getting an education.

Villages in Gambia may lack access to water, food, health care, education, and enterprise. Removing the barriers to education may be the piece of the puzzle that can connect the dots and help alleviate these problems. Transportation to school for children that live too far to walk will ensure that every child gets the chance to learn.

Can you spare a week? Would you like to visit an amazing country and help build and donate these bikes?

Don’t worry about not being a bike mechanic – the Kona AfricaBike is very simple to put together, and full training will be given on site.

You will have to cover your flights and daily expenses, typically around $60 USD per day (this includes local transport, accommodation and food in the villages). Volunteers from the HopeFirst Foundation will help you coordinate your flights and arrange everything for you on the ground in Gambia.

Travel Dates: Come for one week or two. Arrive on a Sunday and depart one or two weeks later on a Sunday. September 12 to 26 will be spent between two areas of Gambia, assembling bikes, as well as introducing other HopeFirst Foundation projects.

So what are you waiting for? Have a trip of a lifetime and feel good helping a great cause!

Contact BikeTown Africa at biketownafrica@gmail.com for more information.

Posted by: biketownafrica | July 15, 2010

Check it out: Dr Travis Stork on BikeTown Africa

The Tanzania episode of ‘The Doctors’ aired yesterday, with Dr Stork really showcasing the BikeTown Africa story well. View 10 minutes of footage here as he helps to build and to hand over the Kona Africabikes.

Posted by: biketownafrica | July 13, 2010

See Travis Stork in Tanzania in The Doctors on Wed July 14th

On Wednesday July 14th, millions of viewers around North America will watch the four doctors from the popular TV series The Doctors visiting four third-world countries. Dr. Travis Stork joined BikeTown Africa in Kibaha, Tanzania, on World Aids Day, December 1st 2009. He helped build the bicycles that would be distributed to healthcare workers in Tanzania, as part of BikeTown Africa’s program, made possible by partners Bicycling magazine, Rodale Press, Bristol-Myers Squibb’s Secure the Future Foundation, Kona Bicycle Company and UTi.

To find your local listings to watch The Doctors, please go here.

Posted by: biketownafrica | July 9, 2010

Premiere of A Million Spokes in Sioux City, Iowa, on 23rd July

Last July Carol Williamson formed a BikeTown Africa team for the 37th RAGBRAI (Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa) to raise awareness about BikeTown Africa. The team plastered stickers on their bikes and helmets, handed out stickers, wrote “BTA” on their calves and were interviewed by several different film crews at the event. Some of the team members rode the Kona AfricaBike (the very same one that was raffled off at the Swarthmore Charity Fun Fair in April this year, which Carol wrote about in the BTA blog) during parts of the race.

A Million Spokes is a feature-length documentary that was made during RAGBRAI, the largest and oldest bicycle touring event in the world. An annual bicycle ride, RAGBRAI takes place in Iowa over seven days in July, with thousands of bicyclists descending on the state to take part in an adventure that is singular in its ability to attract some of the most unusual people you will ever encounter. Some come for the challenge, some come for speed, some come just to party while others derive very specific meanings from the ride.

The world première of A Million Spokes is being held on July 23rd in Sioux City, Iowa, prior to the 2010 RAGBRAI, which begins on July 25th. The filmʼs director, Varda Hardy, and its producers, Ken Gorrell and Talia Rodriguez-Shakur, will join many of the characters we meet in the film at the screening. In addition, there will be a number of surprise guests – celebrities, film executives and film critics.

When: Friday, July 23, 2010, 5:00 pm
Where: Riviera 4 Theater, 714 4th Street, Sioux City, IA 51101
Price: $25.00 (première, limited tickets), includes a medium bag of popcorn and a medium drink

Additional screenings will be held on July 23rd (5:00 pm, 7:00 pm, 9:00 pm and 11:00 pm) and 24th (11:00 am, 1:00 pm, 3:00 pm, 5:00 pm, 7:00 pm, 9:00 pm and 11:00 pm). Cost $10.00.

To book, please visit the Riviera 4 Theater’s website.

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