Providing power and opportunity to thousands of Africans.

“Bikes provide power and opportunity, allowing people to lift themselves from poverty,” says the Village Bike Project. “Riding a bike is four times faster than walking, the only choice for millions of Africans. People with bikes get to schools, markets, farms and health care in one-fourth the time, improving their lives and economic futures.”

It’s a mindset shared by a number of initiatives featured in the Worldwide Cycling Atlas, and VBP’s approach to implementing it is both pragmatic and well considered in its sustainability. For VBP it’s not just about sending containers full of used bikes out to the most needy areas – although they have seen some 75,000 donated bikes shipped to west Africa since the project’s inception in 1999 – it’s about truly engaged involvement with the recipients.

The Village Bike Project’s program supplies bikes, spare parts and tools – but also trains owners in basic bike maintenance and repair. VBP works with bicycle mechanics in villages to improve their tools, their skills; their ability to repair and maintain their customers’ bikes. Some 50,000 bike tools have been distributed in 14 African countries, and so far 13,500 students have been taught bike repair skills in Ghana and Sierra Leone.

Volunteers around the world are coordinated from VBP’s headquarters in Seattle. They collect unused bikes in their communities, which are packed into shipping containers – around 500 in each – and sent to Africa. Typically 150 bikes from each go to villages for use in workshops; the rest of the bikes are sold to local bike retailers to pay the shipping costs.

Containers of donated bikes are shipped from around the work to be used in the Village Bicycle Project's Workshops.

Containers of donated bikes are shipped from around the work to be used in the Village Bicycle Project’s Workshops.

The workshops are free to attend and allow the participant to purchase a bike at half the market price: mountain bikes are $19, road bikes cost $17, and kids’ bikes are $9. In the distant reaches of the country people pay the same as near the port, despite transport costs which can be very high.

Attending the workshop is free, and there is an expectation of serious buy-in from all participants to follow the curriculum. The skills learned there give the new owner the knowledge needed to keep the bike in good condition, and to know when to seek help from the village bike repairer. VBP’s mantra is, “if you have the small problem repaired before it can become a big problem, you will save money in your pocket.”

More than 500 such workshops have been held so far in over 130 communities throughout Ghana. The rollout of workshops this year in three villages in the Brong-Ahafo Region caught our eye, because they were the recipients of a shipment of saddles and gel covers donated by Selle Royal. The saddles were first sent to the UK charity Re-cycle, who support VBP, along with other projects. They were fitted to bikes in a shipment of 254 donated cycles as part of their refurbishment.

Village Bicycle Project’s Ghana Country Director Jason, along with volunteers Prosper, Akapo, Abdul and Sammy then ran 12 One-Day Workshops, and an additional four Tools Workshops – an advanced learning course, wherein participants could purchase the tools they’ve been taught to use. The programmes were held in villages near the Ivorian Border: Biama, Bodaa and Asiri.

Biama has a population of 200, and with no light, water or health clinic, the residents are totally dependant on Bodaa for amenities, so having a bicycle makes everyday life much easier. A total of 40 bicycles were delivered along with some high quality tools for the local fitter to use for maintaining the bikes.

Villagers in Biama recently received 40 bikes – along with tools and skills.

Villagers in Biama recently received 40 bikes – along with tools and skills.

Bodaa is a little better off – with access to power and a bus stop. This was the third time in five years that VBP has run workshops in Bodaa, with 60 bikes being delivered this time around.

Bodaa is a larger Ghanaian village, and regular recipient of VBP bikes.

Bodaa is a larger Ghanaian village, and regular recipient of VBP bikes.

This is the third time that VBP had held workshops in Asiri, a much larger village that serves as the last transport link for half a dozen smaller villages beyond it. 160 bikes were delivered to Asiri.

The residents of Asiri are glad of their new skills.

The residents of Asiri are glad of their new skills.

Many of the bicycles went to farmers, as these villages are within a large cashew growing community. Farmers often have to commute between multiple farms because their land is spread across patches, and a bike saves them time and energy. With the cashew harvest coming into full swing, it was perfect timing as the bikes prove to be invaluable to their work.

VBP has a central aim to bring girls and women into the programme to ensure they can benefit.

VBP has a central aim to bring girls and women into the programme to ensure they can benefit.

“Improved mobility is a key to reducing poverty,” says the VBP. “In Africa, a bicycle can take a person from poverty to prosperity.” And that’s work that deserved support.