Village Bicycle Project Benefits Poor African Families

Reader Contribution by Adam Lafferty

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.