A Reason to Ride
By Samantha Michaels
The Bicycle: A Building Block for Communities?
In the Chongwe District of Zambia, Fred used to spend a lot of time on foot. A volunteer caregiver for HIV/AIDS patients in rural communities, he lacked access to a car but needed to visit his patients two to three times a week, and they often lived about 20 kilometers apart. Life changed dramatically when he received a bicycle from a non-profit called World Bicycle Relief; with the power of his new wheels, Fred could make his rounds much faster, visiting twice as many patients in a given week.
For many Americans, the bicycle is a choice, and we ride for different reasons: to exercise, to reduce our carbon footprint, or simply to get from point A to point B. But last night I watched a documentary called “With My Own Two Wheels” that helped me see how bikes can actually mean so much more – for people like Fred in developing countries, but also for our own communities in the United States.
First shown at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival this February, the documentary weaves together stories of five people, including Fred, who have used bicycles to unlock their potential and give back to their communities. In Ghana, a paralyzed woman named Mirriam escaped the stigma of her disability when she learned to repair bikes in her neighborhood – a valuable skill that allowed her to become self-sufficient and serve as an empowered role model for other Ghanaian women. In India, a young girl named Bharati needed a bike to continue her education, since her school was too far away and it was dangerous for a girl to walk such long distances without an escort. In Guatemala, a farmer named Carlos founded Maya Pedal and decided to create bike-powered, eco-friendly tools that help rural farmers reduce their footprint on the environment. And in California, a young man named Sharkey escaped gang activity on the streets when he decided to volunteer for an organization called Bici Centro that teaches people how to repair their bikes.
In many ways, the bicycle is a basic tool for development, providing access to jobs, schools and health care facilities for people who otherwise couldn’t get there. It can mean the difference between work and unemployment or between education and illiteracy in developing countries, but as Sharkey’s narrative shows, it can also improve our neighborhoods here in the United States. Although the documentary focuses on bikes, it inspired me to think about transportation on a greater scale, and how it affects the character of our neighborhoods. We don’t all have access to cars, and many of us need good subways, buses or bicycles to get to school or work. Reliable transportation promotes education and employment, but it also allows us to give back to our communities; without access to school, for example, children can’t gain the tools they need to contribute to society someday as doctors or teachers. Reliable transportation connects us to important resources, and it also connects us to each other. In what other ways is a bike not just a bike, but a building block for our communities?
We want to know:
- Would more bike paths or better public transportation improve your community?
- How often do you ride your bike?