It was pleasing to read a great example of grassroots America helping out in global development today. Surprisingly it was an article in Bicycling magazine. [ http://www.bicycling.com/
In the Bike Lane December 7th, 2009; "Riding With a Purpose" By Deb Cosgrove - see below ]
I posted a comment saying Americans at the grassroots levels from all around our country can and should involve themselves in people to people development efforts like this. Americans can help promote development best, not by large inputs of foreign aide that rarely ever reach the people who most need the assistance, but working with communities to help them help themselves. By getting involved with local communities in developing countries, Americans will be able to provide input to our own government how and where we might spend our foreign aid more appropriately.
Bicycling’s BikeTown Africa program launched in May 2006 and has distributed more than 1,700 bikes to healthcare workers so that they can distribute anti-retroviral drugs and provide care to people infected with HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and other illnesses.
When I ride my bike to work, I think about how it’ll be dark at 5 pm., the cold, the heat, the rain, the cars. When healthcare workers in Africa ride they have a whole different set of concerns and when they get to their destination they will be helping someone who desperately needs it. For example, in Botswana they ride over blistering deserts and get flat tires from 2-inch thorns.
For three years I have wanted to attend a BikeTown Africa build. I have been working behind the scenes in Emmaus, Pennsylvania by processing invoices, communicating with the BikeTown Project Manager Bradley Schroeder, scheduling flights for attendees and more. This past week my wish to attend a build finally came true when I traveled to Kibaha, Tanzania.
The bike build took place in a hut with a thatched roof; at least we had shade. There were 17 BikeTown Africa volunteers from the United States including me. We were each assigned a group of local volunteers and began our build. I had never built a bike before and I struggled through the first five bikes with my hard working, conscientious team
of Tanzanian volunteers. The Tanzanian people, despite their hardships, were pleasant, and had a sense of peace about them that you don’t always see in the United States. I didn’t notice any Type A personalities in the group. They were always ready with a big smile when we spoke despite the language barrier. They taught me a few words in Swahili and laughed heartily when I mispronounced them.
After the bikes were built we took a drive on the route that the health care workers would have to travel to deliver medical supplies to those in need. We had to hire a driver from the local area because renting a car and driving yourself would be extremely dangerous. Drivers do it all—passing on the left, passing on the right, and even riding up on the sidewalk if necessary to avoid a collision. The pedestrian sign does not show a walking person but a running person. If you dare to cross, you better run.
When we turned off the main road to drive down the dirt road to the village, things got bumpy. There were huge ruts and dips. Once we had to drive on a slant because that was the only option. And, did I mention it was 102 degrees the day we took the ride? Driving the same route the healthcare workers would take on their bikes made me appreciate how tough it is for them and how committed they are to helping those in need.
Working side by side with my team from Kibaha I realized that BikeTown isn’t just about building bikes, it’s about building relationships, lives and a future for the people of Africa. When I first thought of coming to Africa I thought I could help change the lives of a few people and help them survive. In the end I found that they have also changed me and helped in my life. I see their hardships and I realize I truly have nothing to complain about. Yes, I already knew that, but now I have experienced it with my whole physical being. I rode down the roads they ride, felt the heat they feel and have eaten the food they eat.