Inspired by personal experiences in Uganda, a country ravaged by a 20 year civil war, Bicycles Against Poverty was founded by Muyambi Muyambi, after moving to the USA in 2007.
“I grew up in a nation where few have the chance to own a bicycle. It’s a simple vehicle, but it saves lives in times of need. Bicycles also mean access to markets for trade allowing people to earn an income; they mean a ride to school for education, and transportation to clean water sources. Bicycles mean freedom, empowerment, and opportunity.”
The lives in question include his own when, as a child, a neighbour transported him to the nearest hospital – ten hours away by foot – on the back of his bicycle.
“I woke up on the back of a bicycle – muscles aching, body weak, and feeling disoriented. I don’t remember the night before, but I could fill in the blanks: malaria. So there I was, a seven-year-old Ugandan boy, flopping around on the carrier of a neighbour’s bicycle, onward to the nearest hospital as someone pushed me. The trek, over ten miles from our remote area of Kiyaga, would have taken hours by foot, a risky amount of time when diseases like malaria hit. But I was lucky because one of our neighbours owned a bicycle.”
Since setting up Bicycles Against Poverty, 830 bicycles have been distributed to low income families in Uganda, a country where 40% of the rural population still lives in poverty. There, in keeping with Bicycles Against Poverty’s mission statement, bikes are used to “increase accessibility to critical resources, facilitate community cooperation, and build financial management skills among low income entrepreneurs.”
Creating access to education, healthcare, clean water and markets, is a key component in eradicating poverty, claims the organisation. Bikes also make access to opportunities, serving as valuable income-generating tools. Partnering with local communities, participants are selected based on both their needs for a bicycle, and their abilities to pay back a loan, using a microfinancing model. As an ongoing form of support, Bicycles Against Poverty also offers both a financial management workshop and a bike repair workshop, taught by local staff, to cement a sense of autonomy and independence. Local Bicycles Against Poverty staff then return to the villages up to four times a month, maintaining strong relationships with the communities, and collecting loan payments.
The bikes themselves are purchased in Uganda, helping to further support the local economy. Suited to the country’s challenging terrain, the Roadmaster Cycles provided by the organisation have sturdy frames and racks designed to haul anything – from people to crops to water – in true Ugandan style. Sourcing them locally also ensures replacement parts are never an issue.
Currently, most of Bicycles Against Poverty’s work is located in the Gulu region, where the majority of the fighting took place in the past. Plans are, however, under way to expand further into East Africa in the future.
All images copyright Bicycles Against Poverty.