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As with any development initiatives, the solution to the transport problem in poor countries must be locally accepted and locally sustainable. There is little point in building a metro train network in an African city if no one can afford to buy tickets or repair the locomotives when they break down.

On the other hand, one of the simplest transport technologies, the bicycle, is far more affordable and can be maintained anywhere in the world with minimal tools and spare parts. In places where transport options are severely restricted, bicycles greatly improve personal mobility and enable people to determine their own schedules.

Yet despite their relative affordability, even bicycles may be beyond the reach of the world’s poorest people. A new bicycle costs around US$50 in Ghana, US$85 in the Gambia and US$100 in Namibia. Where income levels are less than a dollar a day, these prices are beyond the reach of the most needy.

Every year rich countries discard millions of bicycles as people upgrade to newer models. Most of these bicycles are in perfect condition, or require only a little maintenance to get going. Over the past 20 years a number of organizations have formed to ship these bikes to poor countries, where they have the potential to change lives.

As the bikes are refurbished and distributed, local people are trained in bike mechanics, and business opportunities arise for community based bike shops where the bikes are sold at low prices. Opportunities to extend the reach of healthcare, education and other services also become possible.

Some of the groups that benefit from bike distribution include:

  • Women, who typically spend more time walking than men through performing domestic duties like gathering food, water and firewood.
  • Children, who face long walks to school and arrive too tired to learn, or simply don’t attend
  • Healthcare workers, who often walk long distances to provide medication and counselling to people living with HIV/AIDS and malaria in their homes
  • Unemployed people, who can start bike shops, delivery businesses, tourism ventures or spin off projects making trailers, racks and other addons.

How we aim to help more people become mobile

Currently only a fraction of the rich world’s bicycles are shipped to developing countries. In the US, 15-20 million bikes are purchased each year, and it’s estimated that around 10 million bikes are discarded. The figures are similar in other Western countries. Even if only half of the West’s discarded bikes are still usable it represents an enormous untapped resource.

Each year, Western collection organizations ship less than 50,000 bikes to partners in the developing world. There is huge potential for growth.

if you are interested in becoming involved in this grassroots initiative in North America, Europe and the UK we welcome you and your support. Humanity Rocks Initiatives are springing up everywhere. Individuals, groups, churches, schools: no matter what level of involvement you or your group are willing to take on, your support and joining the Humanity Rocks Initiative is welcome.

By sharing methodologies, expertise and resources, working systematically and improving communication, Bicycles for Humanity aims to more than triple the number of bikes sent to developing countries by 2010, reaching an annual figure of 150,000. To do this Bicycles for Humanity members will expand their collection activities, foster bicycle distribution projects in new countries and help existing projects to grow. Humanity does Rock.

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