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Village Bicycle Project Benefits Poor African Families

5/26/2010 2:47:07 PM

Tags: Africa, bicycles, bicycling, charities, economy, Village Bicycle Project

The Village Bicycle Project, operated by the Palouse Clearwater Environmental Institute in Moscow, Idaho, was conceived in 1999 when its founder David Peckham traveled to Ghana to examine how the government’s waiving of import taxes on bicycles years before had impacted cycling and see if there was any way to help out. Instead of a multilayered method financed by a commercial enterprise, collectors from all over the country as well as Canada and England donate used bicycles, parts and tools, and volunteer workers pack them in shipping crates, send them out to Africa and distribute them to families in destitute villages. The VBP has donated more than 45,000 used bicycles in the past ten years and has made a great deal of difference for tens of thousands of African people, most of whom cannot afford a car and would otherwise have to walk for miles to get to school or work.

Peckham in an interview says that as Americans see a bicycle as an alternative to driving, so most Africans see it as an alternative to walking. Riding a bicycle is four times faster than going on foot, and because few people in African villages have bicycles while in most places in the U.S. everyone has a car, they are seen as status symbols — owning one is a sign that one has more time to be productive and can save money on transportation. In a small village located miles away from schools, markets and hospitals in countries like Ghana where oil cannot solve its transportation and economic problems, a bicycle makes a family’s daily needs more accessible and can help lift them out of poverty.

In 2009, VBP volunteers worked more than 12,000 hours distributing bicycles to families as well as setting up free workshops where new owners are taught basic maintenance and repair skills to help them become self-sustainable. Last April the organization reached a milestone by loading their one hundredth crate.

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6/9/2010 10:24:47 PM
I enjoyed the article and felt more positive about the world. However, I have a dislike for the phrase, "...can help lift them out of poverty." I find the wanton use of the word poverty distasteful. It shows a mental obsession with money. How much money do they have? Do they have disposable income? Etc, etc… My belief is that the bikes gave them more freedom and power to explore their environs and to meet their neighbors. Thus, they would be less likely to be hungry or thirsty or bored. Having their lives thus improved, they would be happier - whether or not they were poor. This obsession with money puts the wrong spin on why we are here on earth. Also, all of the recent research into what makes us happy says that money is only relevant if basic needs are not being met. Meeting basic needs and thus allowing one to find joy is what is important, not some arbitrary economic definition called poverty.

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