LONG VALLEY, New Jersey — A new solution to eradicate poverty in Uganda is currently surfacing: bicycles. These human-powered, pedal-driven vehicles are particularly powerful in areas of the world where distance is a barrier to education, healthcare, clean water and markets.
Bicycles Against Poverty is an organization that has recognized the growing demand for high-quality bicycles in isolated, impoverished villages in rural East Africa, where long and poorly maintained roads impede access to necessities for residents. The organization is working to make bicycles more than sources of transportation. It is working to make bicycles engines for economic and cultural empowerment, freedom and opportunity.
Gulu, a region in northern Uganda, is the focus of BAP’s efforts, as its residents have lived in internally displaced persons camps for over ten years, during the Uganda civil war. Commerce and community life were heavily disrupted by the war, leaving the area “handicapped to this day.” According to the Rural Poverty Portal, there are currently ten million Ugandans living in poverty, which equates to about 40 percent of the rural population in Uganda.
The organization was founded by Muyambi Muyambi, who grew up in the remote area of Kiyaga, in Uganda. For Muyambi, a bicycle has an even more personal meaning than the simple vehicle we know it as. When he was seven years old, Muyambi was struck with malaria and carried over ten miles to the nearest hospital on a neighbor’s bicycle. While the bicycle saved his life, he knew that his story was “not unique,” and that others living in isolated villages such as Kiyaga have not been so fortunate. Muyambi founded BAP because he “wanted to get bicycles into the hands of individuals who need them and who could use them to their full potential.”
So what exactly would the bicycles do for people living in remote communities in Uganda? BAP believes that bicycles will address the following issues:
Thirty percent of primary-school students in Uganda must travel over 5 kilometers to reach school. These long distances contribute to the reason why 75 percent of Ugandan children do not continue on to attend secondary school. By providing bicycles for students, mobility will increase, and the dropout rate of secondary school students will decrease, thus giving children the opportunity to attain an education and a bright future.
While functioning health facilities exist in Uganda, it would take most Ugandans a full day of walking to access them. Malnutrition, malaria and HIV/AIDS are all widespread health issues in Uganda, but many victims can’t make the trek to underutilized healthcare centers. According to BAP, 96 percent of Ugandans who die of cancer never see a medical practitioner. Bicycles enable medical staff to reach more patients each day, and also enable these patients to reach health care facilities quickly and easily.
3. Clean Water
Clean water is located several miles from rural villages. BAP states that women are often forced to choose between fetching water for the day and tending to their children. As children grow older and more capable, they are frequently expected to skip school and undertake the responsibility of carrying heavy loads of water to their villages.
Markets located near urban centers typically have the cheapest prices, which is an obstacle for those residing in isolated communities. Since “one back or head can only carry so much,” bicycles help transport milk, vegetables and farm supplies from the markets to rural villages. In addition, bicycles are beneficial to entrepreneurs or family businesses by increasing their profits and productivity.
But BAP aims to provide more than access to these necessities for Ugandans. They want to transform villages by teaching economic independence, financial management and community collaboration to the residents.
As opposed to donating money to those who struggle to generate an income, BAP “supplies a means for individuals to acquire capital themselves” through a bicycle. BAP has also developed a unique system that allows Ugandans to pay for their bicycles through monthly and weekly installments, thus encouraging them to learn and utilize important micro finance skills. In addition, BAP staff host a series of workshops that encourage individuals to focus on maintenance of their bicycles.
BAP further supports the local economy by purchasing their bicycles from a local Ugandan manufacturer, Roadmaster Cycles.
Bikes Against Poverty and similar organizations aim to help impoverished people prosper by providing them with two wheels, two pedals and a set of handlebars. One should never underestimate the power of a bicycle.
– Abby Bauer
Sources: Bicycles Against Poverty, World Bicycle Relief, Rural Poverty Portal, BBC
Photo: Loving the Least