Sierra Leone after one year
Aminata Kamara, 7, is the proud owner of an adorable European 16"
8 January, 2010
It was so cool! A beautiful bit of closure to our first year in Sierra
Leone. Almost one year after the whole thing started, there I was again
at the Catholic Mission in Lunsar, talking with Sister Bernadette, the
tiny Japanese nun, who after 30 years in English-speaking Africa, still
has a very thick accent.
Last January I and a young man from the community had gone to
Bernadette’s kindergarten class to fix the six small bikes she had there
for the kids to play with. She had told me then about Gudleik, the
Norwegian volunteer who had been doing PE activities with the kids. He
was organizing a ‘bi-athalon’ with the students, a biking and running
race for the following weekend. “Are the girls going to be in the race
too?” I asked. “No, they don’t know to bicycle,” she replied.
It was time for me to leave the country, but I was determined to meet
this Gudleik. So, with my bags packed, I took one last bike ride to his
place at the compound for the Baptist Eye Clinic. His wife was a
volunteer mid-wife there, and he looked after their two small boys, and
organized activities with school children.
He had a fleet of about 15 small bikes that he’d bought in the capital,
He said he hadn’t had the time or patience to teach girls to ride, but
that he’d be glad to share his bikes if someone else would do the
I ‘gave’ him my bike, (long-term loan), and got a motorbike taxi back to
my room, grabbed my bags and left. I was pleased to think that we had
the basics for a program; a group of girls to teach, bikes to use, a
place for room and board, all we needed was a woman volunteer to do the
Then Brittany Richardson came and taught more than 200 girls how to
Almost one year later, on my last day of my second trip to Sierra Leone,
I stopped at the Mission to return some borrowed dishes. Sister
Bernadette answered the door. “Ah how nice to see you!” She told me
that she was not with the children just then because they were out
preparing the field for a bike and run race. “Will there be girls this
time?” “Yes yes!” and I got that moment that Brittany should have had,
because she was the one who spent six months teaching them to ride.
It was pretty special, the culmination of a year’s work, which started
when I was lucky enough to spot all the ingredients of an opportunity,
and we were all lucky enough to have Brittany want to come and volunteer
to get it done. I wish she could’ve been there, cuz she deserved
What is so special about teaching girls in Africa to ride bikes? For
starters, many females in Africa don’t know how to ride, while most
males do. They tend to be culturally excluded, for many reasons. So
learning to ride is a special gift, one that will stay with them, unlike
the bicycle that everyone thinks we should give them. The gift is the
exuberance of bicycling, balance and speed, man girl and machine,
confidence, accomplishment. These young girls will always know how to
ride, and no one will take that away. When bikes come around in her
life, her brothers, neighbors, her husband, she’ll ask to use it too,
unstuck from the stereotype that bikes are not for girls.
We found that when we give bikes to girls, they’re too often taken and
damaged by the boys. So if we want females to have bikes, we must first
supply the males. And early in our involvement, we must teach the
females how to ride. It is much easier to teach a young girl than a
grown woman. Younguns don’t have as far to fall, they’re more
resilient, and more willing to try new things. Adults everywhere get
stuck in their ways, and a defeatist fear of bicycles takes hold.
Maybe even better than the teaching of 200 girls how to ride, before
Brittany left Sierra Leone, she had organized two Sierra Leoneans, a man
and a woman, to continue teaching girls to ride in the Lunsar vicinity.
Jack and Kadiatu have ambitious plans to teach some the girls who missed
out, and will also be reaching out to the villages in the months ahead.
From state side, we are ready to send our first container to help meet
the tremendous demand we’re seeing in Sierra Leone.
|from Brittany Richardson, in Sierra leone
July 9, 2009 Lunsar, Sierra Leone
Now, onto the fun stuff - the bicycle stuff. Classes are going
swimmingly. I am learning just as much as the girls are learning
day. So far there have been 9 classes total. I have devised them so
that no more than 10 girls are in one group at a time and each group
comes to 2 classes, each 2 hours long, over a 2 day period.
The youngest girls (ages 4-6) I have found are the most difficult to
teach and also have the greatest difficulty understanding instructions
and directions. But even they are learning to ride and it’s so
to see them take off. It’s pretty funny, because they don’t dare say
word in class. They are so silent, whereas the older girls you can’t
get to be quiet.
So with each new class I remove all the pedals of the
bicycles and just spend the first hour watching them and seeing them
try to master the scoot technique. This step alone can be very
difficult for them to learn. When I see some improvement in their
scooting technique, I move on to step #2 and put the pedals back on.
This is where it gets a bit difficult because the younger girls
really understand the notion of pedaling forward. But, gradually,
with the help of many other kids who volunteer to help during class,
they get it. The language barrier is certainly a bump in the road
me being able to help them progress, but each day I learn new words
from my fellow assistants.
That brings me up to who has been helping me. Out of the woodwork came 3
young women who have shown up every single day to help me teach the
classes.It’s a weird dynamic, but it seems to be working and they are
doing a great job. Their names are Kona, Saleematu and Francis.
Overall, I am so incredibly surprised and happy with who has come to be
a part of this project. Who knows if they will continue to show up, but
as of now they get an A+ in my book.
|December 2008 : Benin
[everything from here on down is from Dave Peckham, VBP Director]
I took a few days off from the rigors of Ghana bikes to travel to
northern Benin to meet up with friend, fellow Seattle container stuffer
and VBP board member, David Mozer. What David really does is lead bike
tours around places like Vietnam, Tunisia, Cuba, and Africa with his
non-profit International Bicycle
One of the eight people on this ride through Togo and Benin got jerked
around by Lufthansa about flying with her bike, and it didn't arrive
with her in Accra. So Sarah ended up buying something in Sokode in
northern Togo. It was a pretty 'mountain' bike, loaded with
accessories and she paid $80. She'd ridden it all of 30 miles when I
met up with them in Natitingou. All four bearing sets were loose. The
knobs of the knobby tires had started breaking off.
IBF changed their plans and were taking the bus for 100 miles so I
wasn't going to get to ride with them. I had packed my panniers with
tools and wanted to take some time to learn about the bike scene in
Natitingou is surrounded by hills, montagnes they call them. It's a
commercial hub for the north west corner of the country, on the main
road from the major port city Cotonou to Burkina Faso. Dozens of huge
tanker trucks with Mali license plates pass through daily. I think its
crude oil, but the journey is well over a thousand miles, extremely
inefficient, expensive and dangerous.
I met a man of about 65, who told me that the desolate looking hills
around Natitingou used to be forested and filled with monkeys and birds.
He said that climate change wiped them out, along with indiscriminate
bush burning and logging.
|Motos outnumber bikes in Natitingou by 4 to 1. Most bikes are
second-hand Europeans and I saw half a dozen Japanese second-hand
imports for sale for $90, approaching double what you'd pay in
I only found 3 to 4 repairers in Nati. They were interested in the
tools and paid about 25% less than Ghana. I dashed them a bunch of
stuff that wasn't selling. I was surprised by how few bike biz people
We got to talking parts and Abel calmly told me that most of the bikes
stored in his shop needed tires and tubes. He had as many as 30 bikes
there and at home, some as long as five years, owed by customers,
waiting for tires and/or tubes.
Abel had earlier told me that all the new Asian tires and tubes are
rubbish. All too often you'll put a new tube and it won't hold air.
You take it out and find a long rip along the seam.
I get the same complaint in Ghana, only not so severe. They have a
steady stream of inner tubes coming in from American bikes shops,
especially Paradise Creek Bicycles in Moscow Idaho. They give us all
their punctured tubes, we probably got 1000 tubes from them this year.
US bike shops don't patch, they replace. Apparently, much much more are
needed in Africa.
Ghanaian bike owners pay more for US punctured tubes than new ones they
get from China. Same goes for tires, which brings us back to Sarah's
new bike with disintegrating tires after 35 miles.
What the hell? 30 bikes out of service for lack of tires and tubes?
What kind of infrastructure is that? So how much of this problem is
policy and how much is market, or capital?
I was lucky enough to be in Nati for market day. I met Saliou, a parts
seller, who travels around the region on markets day. He stocks mostly
roadster parts. "The [roadster] is stronger for carrying heavy loads."
I used to hear that a lot in Ghana and less often now that more people
are familiar with mountain bikes.
He told me he travels to Lome for parts and and seeing as that's not far
from Accra, I see a potential partnership. I want to get him 100 tubes
and get started. I'll have to set them apart when we load a
Saliou setting up his shop early on market day in Natitingou.
The red and white boxes are the notorious bad tubes.
Mozer told me that he may have had some influence in Ghana's decision to
remove duties on bicycles. He had met with a bunch of officials and
told them about bikes shortly before it happened. So if one of my
friends can have that much influence, we most definitely need some
people doing the policy work.
Back in Accra I caught a whiff of my shirts from my trip to Togo and
Benin before putting them in the bucket to wash. Exhaust fumes
overpowered dust and sweat, a visceral reminder of the extreme
domination of motorbikes. The towns are angry swarms of motorbikes,
hornets nests, I can't imagine the respiratory problems the population
Motorbikes start at about $600. Many men are making a living doing
motorbike taxis. It is very difficult to get a taxi car in Lome or
Cotonou, the capitals of these bitty little countries.
In Benin, I didn't see license plates on the motorbikes. Also, a huge
portion of the country's fuel is smuggled in from next-door neighbor
Nigeria. There fuel prices are extremely low, and shortages are common.
So I see possibly two significant ways that policy in Benin favors
motorbikes, the apparent lack of registration and the blind eye to
smuggled fuel. The highway outside Cotonou is lined with 20 liter glass
bottles of gasoline. An actually filling station is a rare sight.
Sorry I don't have photos. Most of the gasoline sold in Benin is
smuggled from Nigeria, of questionable purity, and often siphoned from
one receptacle to another. Probably tens of thousands of Beninois
ingest small amounts of gasoline daily.
|16 December, 2008 : Travel Plans
This trip, so far, was in 3 countries; Ghana, Togo, and Benin. Accra to
Lome; Togo on the 10th; then north to Kara; and East to Ketao the 11th;
by bike the 12th, first to Pedagou (sp)? then to Natitingou, Benin; 13th
at Nati; 14th south and east to Parakou; 15th well south to Bohicon;
then west by bike to Azove;
Today by bike to Tohoun Togo; then transport to Notse and Lome.
I've long wanted to research bikes in northern Benin, and I hope to get
it to blog. I did bike counts in Pedagou, Natitingou; Parakou and
Sold tools and interviewed bike dealers and mechanics in Nati and
Parakou. Wednesday I plan to visit my old friend and tools buyer in
|9 December 2008 : Accra
I’m now at the hi-brow internet in Accra, and guess what, the server’s
up and down, so what are the chances I can get email done?
I’m leaving in less than 24 hours to meet up with ibike.org's entourage, ride with them in Togo and
Benin for several days, and return here the 16th. I wont be much use in
I was just about totally hating it here, dull story, until I went to a
village where we've delivered 275 bikes, spent two nights, biked around
from village to village, and remembered why I do this :~)
|6 April, 2008 : Senegal
Back in November, 2007, I spent a week in Senegal and wrote this: VERY
interesting! The short version is that what I'm learning in Ghana will
help us hit the ground better in Senegal. It looks like a go-- a
container of bikes from Washington DC's Bikes for the World, 360 bikes
for school kids who live far from school, 50% male- female mix, 16
programs in eight schools. About a month, starting in early Feb.
The lead organization isn't much interested in capacity-building the
bike sector (their mission is public ed) so we'll have to fund some of
the support system ourselves. That's fine, it makes for a great
partnership! Our main man in Senegal is good, competent, experienced,
knowledgeable. If this 'pilot' goes well, we will be ready and able to
open VBP up in Senegal on an ongoing basis.
April 2008 Senegal update-- In Senegal I couldn't stop thinking I
should trade my bike for an extreme makeover, -- a business suit - and
get to work lobbying those who could change policy. With Dakar the
capital choking in traffic and fuel at $9 a gallon, the transport sector
is paralyzed. And as we all know, when transport and energy costs rise,
the entire economy suffers.
Bikes pay a 50% tariff to enter Senegal, [because they are] regarded
as toys! Bikes pay 2% to enter Ghana, and I'll guess they have 15
times as many bikes per capita as Senegal. It all looks so obvious.
Bikes are part of the solution to so many problems; congestion, high
fuel costs, global climate change, and in poor countries, trade
deficits and basic mobility for the masses. Bikes help reduce urban
migration, as they make life more bearable in the villages, diminishing
somewhat the allure of the city.
Adding to the absurdity, our project was cancelled at the last minute
when someone in the Ministry of Finance informed us that there was a
total ban on the importation of used bikes! The ban was certainly
imposed to protect the local bike assembly industry, which collapsed
anyway a few years ago.
Isn't there someone out there who is comfortable in a business suit,
persuasive in speech, knowledgeable of African culture and
sensibilities, and at ease among people of power and self importance,
who could take this issue to Senegal's leaders? It seems like only one
or two key people need to be convinced, to get bikes flowing to the
Peace Corps was also involved in the Senegal project. They wanted to
recruit the girls-with-bikes for an HIV/Aids awareness ride campaign.
So this PCV and I went on a little scoping mission, to look at the
possible route. We found that sand was a problem in places, which meant
we'd have to consider that in choosing where to do the bike program.
En route we met up with the folks from the sponsoring NGO in their late
model SUV, and a crowd from the nearby village gathered to see what the
foreigners were up to.
(Yes, donkey carts are a viable form of transport that also needs to be
considered, along with the fact that bicycles don't have to be fed when
|20 March, 2008 : Northern Ghana
Hawa, a Ghanaian woman organizing workshops near Bolgatanga, tells of
some school boys who are saving for bicycles. For extra money they are
making fans used for fanning cooking fires. The boys walk about four
km. to a place by the river where the grass is ideal for making fans.
They cut the grass and carry large bundles home on their heads, where
they weave the fans in their spare time. Then on market days they carry
the fans the nine km. to town to sell. The profits they bring to Hawa
to add for their bicycles, sometimes only 50 cents at a time.
|March 2008 Abompe, Ghana : BAMBOO BIKE PROJECT
We hosted the recent visit to Ghana of the Bamboo Bike Project.
Designer/builder Craig Calfee was ready to begin experimenting with
production of bikes with bamboo frames, and VBP was happy to share our
contacts to help the concept get traction. The bamboo frames are
durable, lightweight, flexible and strong, making for a great ride, and
the basic material is locally grown.
The hard part is that the bamboo needs to be treated with an obscure
chemical to prevent splitting and bug infestations, and the frames are
held together with epoxy, which also has to be imported.
Bamboo Cargo Bike
|Craig's bamboo bike wasn't all that interesting to me when I first heard
of it last year. Ghana already has plenty of bike frames lying around
for lack of spare parts. My attitude changed when I learned that it was
designed as a cargo bike. Ghana needs bikes that can haul produce from
farm to home to market, and this bike has been tested and will carry
several hundred pounds of cargo. The wheel base is longer, by maybe a
foot, and the rear wheel is reinforced with bamboo spokes.
Craig wanted to do the bamboo bike project in a remote and needy area,
but I suggested that a project as ambitious and intricate as bamboo
bikes should be able to learn its hard lessons in easier places, before
going in to the truly difficult places.
Ghana is a good place to try to start a bamboo bike project because of
the significant bike culture here, availability of parts, and my network
of people and programs. If it works out here, then the hard lessons can
be learned in this relatively easy place, before taking it deep into the
bush, far from roads, parts and skilled workers.
Peace Corps volunteer Suzanne Hartley has organized some interested
people in her village, Abompe E/R, and Craig and I went there, combining
VBP’s one-day program for bikes with Craig’s introduction to bamboo bike
building. While there we took a 5 km. bush path ride to a neighboring
village and found this treat at the end of the ride. After the railroad
had been abandoned, villagers dragged a section of rails and crossties
across this river, making this bridge. (I, the photographer, was riding
the bamboozie. It was a great ride, flexible, responsive, lightweight.
Being a foot longer tho, meant turning was sketchy around the tight
corners on the path.)
Bridge made from salvaged railroad section
|February 2008, Accra : TOOLS UPDATE
I was all excited to hear from Cico, my main tools buyer, that someone
had brought in FR-1, (so excited that I wrote about it in the annual
report). That is the freewheel remover most common to gear clusters
found here. The FR-1 is the poster-child tool supplied by VBP. Before
we began bringing the FR-1, bike workers would have to pound freewheels
off with hammer and chisel, often destroying them in the process. Half
the spokes on the rear wheel can only be replaced if you first remove
the gear cluster. We have imported several thousand FR-1s since
This is a common local adaptation. The FR-1 is welded to an old
|I was giddy to think that VBP was no longer the sole supplier of
freewheel tools, because once someone orders the tool themselves, the
development goal has been accomplished. Sweet success! Well not so
As the weeks went by and the FR-1 did not appear in the market, Cico had
to revise the story.
"The boy saw something in a catalog that looked familiar, and ordered
it, it wasn't the correct one at all." Turns out the person who ordered
the tools was not very familiar with them, and ordered something that
looked like something Cico, (through VBP), has been supplying. It was a
cheap crank puller-combination-chain tool, with, according to Cico, a
Misfire. It was a random opportunity gone awry, but it gives us a
little insight into the collective dysfunction here. Someone with too
much money and not enough knowledge makes big bad decisions about
supplying goods, and those with the knowledge don't have the access.
I'll be sure and get Cico a catalog! and either raise my prices or keep
his supplies erratic enough that maybe he'll get inspired to order for
By the way, I met a parts dealer in Techiman, about 400 km. north of
Accra, and a big market town for an area from Cote d'Ivoire to Burkina
Faso to northern Nigeria and Niger. He had a chain breaker, and two
types of freewheel removers, that surely came originally from VBP. He
paid 30,000 each for them in Kumasi, more than a year ago. I originally
supplied them in bulk for 8 and 9000 each!
|20 December 2007 : Near Bolgatanga, Ghana
Dan tells the story about the American who talked about a very strong
bike, very fast and very rugged, far better than anything they had
here. Then someone brought a Huffy mountain bike, and Dan and others
all agreed that the American had spoken correctly, this bike was far
better than anything they had ever ridden. When the American saw the
Huffy, he said "no! no! this is the worst bike in America!" Dan and his
friends were surprised, confused, and disbelieving.
Then a Peace Corps Volunteer brought a Trek to the village, and Dan and
his friends now understood, "it was like a motorbike!" he said. "Once
people had one of these bikes, they would forget where they'd parked
their old Chinese bike."
13 December 2007 : Garu Program Report
One of the women’s programs in Garu, U/E.
We just finished two weeks of programs, about 150 people got bikes, it
was mostly women, and most didn’t speak English. I keep seeing things
that I think could should be improved, but it doesn’t happen, and
everyone just gets frustrated. I don’t know how the lead trainers keep
going day after day, I get wore out, esp. in the midday heat. I used to
get a big thrill from the realization that 25 people are gathering to
spend a day talking about bikes, and that I had made it happen. Now its
not so exciting, and I wish they did a better job of explaining things.
That 'Ghana good enough’ cultural difference is getting in the way. So
the program is losing its excitement for me.
I also have to deal with more shady characters and shady schemes then I
do at home, and that gets tiresome. The wealth gap is so huge here, and
so many stuck near the bottom, and the worst ones are at the top.
There’s a lot of rich Americans like that too, so its not just Ghana. I
get to look more often at my own pettiness and prejudices here!
She figured out gears!
It didn’t seem like the women were getting-it in the class. We couldnt
get them to figure out gears at all. The trainers seemed oblivious to
the problem. So I took some of the women for a ride. Only seven at a
I had to put each one of their bikes into low gear, cause the 30
demonstration didnt work. sigh, between language barrier and
techno-chasm it seem almost hopeless. So eight of us climbed a gentle
hill together, and with one of them I could see the light go on! She
understood, and when we got to the top I talked and motioned for her to
push the lever the other way, she did, and her smile got even bigger.
Then I called the translator over and said, "have her tell everyone what
she has discovered!"
Still, I wonder if it is counterproductive for us to leave the
derailers on all these bikes. When they break, they'll have to pay
someone to remove them and shorten the chain, making them into
one-speeds. Everyone disagrees.
Where is that fuzzy place between self-interest and whats best for the
students? If my trainers are short-cutting because they’re exhausted,
could I get them to do better work if I paid them more and gave them
more time off? They’ve been doing it their way for so long (201 classes
I figured out last night!) are they capable of changing? Especially
given that I’m usually not here with them in the classroom.
The Garu Gang
|To see how important all these questions about quality of instruction
are, I needed to study some women and their bikes from last year. So I
went to a village where women got bikes from us 11 months ago, and
talked with them about their bikes. Nine out of nine were still in use,
8 still had derailers, and several had sent family members to our recent
programs for more bikes. It was a fun time, and of course I feel a lot
better about our programs. Good enough, and I relaxed a bit about the
curriculum so I could focus on another problem, program organization.
Getting people to show up on time, who understand that you don’t
pick your bike till the end of the day, and that you cant just come take
your half-price bike and leave. The people in this place who organized
the programs are delegating important parts to underlings, who aren’t
explaining the details, then we have to deal with a lot of
misunderstandings. The VBP model is not like anything they’ve
Anyways, we’re staying in this lovely house that is a cross between
local compound architecture and Los Angeles. The owner/builder is Peace
Corps lady from LA who stayed, and built a lovely, comfortable pad
overlooking a pond and nearby hills. It really is a bubble here, and
when I get outside and get on my bike to ride to town its always a bit
of a jolt to see the neighbors and how they live. Many homes were
damaged by torrential rains last summer, and it’s a trip to see them
being rebuilt, mixed out of mud that leaves a shallow crater near the
house. These folks have almost nothing, and almost always have lived
that way. Still they have big smiles and wave to me as I bike past them
on single track bush paths, my $1000 laptop in my knapsack.
One of thousands of homes destroyed by torrential
|Ghana and Back
December 5, 2007
Its just a lean-to shed with a tin roof and three woven grass walls,
open facing the street. This is where I’ve been getting dinner most
nights this past week. The women serving starch balls with peanut soup
or pepper soup and beef or goat bits and tough pieces of chicken are
happy to see me. They cook the soups right here over open fires, the
stoves are modified truck rims. Its like this throughout Ghana and a big
meal is usually less than a dollar.
From out in front of the eating place, a.k.a. chop bar, (I don’t want to
say restaurant) comes a squeaky din, the brakes of the 2nd hand Japanese
bikes common to all of northern Ghana. Cyclists weave though crowds of
“footers,” push carts, donkey carts, etc. I don’t know how it happened,
but these bikes have replaced the old Chinese roadster as the
Northerner’s bike of choice. They have drum brakes whose squeak is more
common than roosters crowing at daybreak. I have never, anywhere seen so
many bikes, as a proportion of vehicles. Still, far more people walk,
and bikes are out of reach. Our programs are very popular here, because
our bikes are half-price, affordable to more people.
Someone reminded me recently how lucky I am to get to travel and stay
and explore villages all over the country. When I have time off from
programs and want to avoid the administrative work, I go for bike rides.
Sometimes I bring a compass to help find my way back when I wander off
on endless bush paths. There’s very very few motorized. I mostly meet
footers, then bikes, donkey carts, motorbikes, then full-on vehicles. I
love that too.
Children call out, “good morning” at all times of the day, and “Fadda”
after the priests and pastors who were the first white people their
parents and grandparents had ever met. Some call Liz ‘Fadda’ too. People
are surprised, usually amused to see me. I don’t like it when they ask
where I am going, because wandering doesn’t make sense to them, and they
want to lead me to the most obvious route back, the main road.
Famine looms here, after floods decimated crops (literally 10% of
normal), yet people still smile and greet the stranger, despite the
horrors brought here by my ancestors. Rarely rarely am I blamed for
|Into Africa 2007
November 11, 2007
The sun is setting out the window over the Atlantic, and now with all
the getting ready to leave behind me, I would like to share with you
what seems to be ahead.
I arrive in Accra early Monday morning, and will meet with both George
and Samson to catch up on news, make plans, and talk out the new
arrangement, which centers on the fact that they are no longer working
together under the same roof.
Tuesday I go 100 miles north and meet Liz, our American volunteer
extraordinaire, at our base in Golokuati. Officially she’s our Women’s
programs coordinator, but she’s better described as our programs
coordinator. One of the things she’s been doing is working with
Earn-a-Bike, where with 40 hours of instruction, you should completely
overhaul the bike you will get free of charge. Various problems along
the lines of corruption have led to the closing of programs in two other
schools, and we are facing similar issues in Golokuati. Do we shit-can
our last EAB program, or make an extra effort to make it work like its
supposed to? I want to see it continue, mainly because I see it as a
forum and testing ground for a much more comprehensive vocational
program. Tremendous potential, but how do we cope with the corruption
I’ll be in Golokuati area three days, then one more in Accra before
flying to Senegal for a feasibility study for bikes for girl students.
This is funded by USAID and a couple of other international non-profits.
The program is the brainchild of a Peace Corps volunteer there, who is
organizing groups of women in a Tour de Femmes, to bike from village to
village teaching the need for girls to stay in school.
So, Senegal for a week, back to Accra on the 25th. A few days later I go
north 500 miles, and meet up with Liz, Samson, and Gloria who are doing
17 one-day workshops. I think six will be all-women. This may be the
last of Gloria’s assignment, and we wont renew her contract for now. We
are hoping that some northern women from TAWODEP, (Talensi Area Women’s
Development Project) who have participated in two or three of our
workshops before, may be interested in training assistance, and possibly
The problem with Gloria seems to be she’s simply uninspired. It often
seems like this contract is just something to do while she waits for
what she really wants. At 23, she is very much in transition. She
recently finished school. I wonder if she isn’t harassed by some (I’d be
surprised if she isn’t) for her role as a bike repair instructor. She
probably has to put up with comments like “you’ll never find a good
husband if you are a bike repair teacher.” A culturally interesting
problem, and I look forward to hearing Liz’ perspective.
So, moving forward with the women’s programs hinges on finding some
Ghanaian females who want to lead. The best prospect that I see is about
in her mid-30s, and probably more sure of her self and her relationship
to her culture. Christine also enjoys the support of her TAWODEP
Sometime mid to late December, Liz and I are going to take a two-week
vacation and bike north into Burkina Faso. I’m looking forward to
flexible scheduling, and impulsive last minute frivolous decisions.
Then it looks like two weeks of mid-January will be spent in the Ashanti
region of Ghana, doing several programs. 1) Bikes for female
village-based health care and health education volunteers in
Boamadumasi, 2) a repair training for women in Agogo who already
received bikes from another organization, 3)several regular one-day
workshops for bikes, and tentatively, hopefully, 4) a program with 20
bamboo-framed cargo bikes.
Famous custom frame builder Craig Calfee wants VBP to help him organize
the building, distribution and monitoring of 20 bamboo cargo bikes for
use in one village location. The other time Calfee went to Ghana, George
was a key player in the building of a prototype, and Samson helped
obtain appropriate parts. Calfee’s project got great press, and VBP was
mentioned in the Los Angeles Times and we were on NPR’s ‘The World.’
Then, three weeks of February is set aside for Senegal, implementing our
November initiative, if we get the go-ahead.
After that, I have no plans. Liz has been talking about doing a training
of trainers, and I need to grapple with the complex issue of getting
more trainers up and running so that we can do more one-day workshops.
We now have a one-year waiting list for workshops, and too many villages
miss out, because the organizer cant wait, they complete their two-year
Peace Corps volunteer assignment, and go home. The training of trainers
is an idea in progress.
Liz leaves Ghana in mid March, and I need to be home by April 15. I have
nothing certain beyond mid-February, but I suspect that time will fill
quickly. I’m pretty excited about the idea of not having to schedule as
tightly as before, so that I’ll have time for follow-up work,
debriefing, and going for rides with the locals!
November 4, 2007
About 35 people braved the wind and rain last night to come out and see
Ayamye* and ‘Return of the Scorcher’ at the Frontier Theater in
Brunswick, Maine. The Maine Bicycle Coalition was well represented, and
people came from more than 50 miles away for the show.
MBC scored a major victory in the Maine legislature this year, passing a
bill that require cars to give three feet of room when passing bikes,
and allowing them to cross a solid yellow line to get around
Also, I was pleased to learn, that drive-through services will now be
required to serve cyclists in Maine. I’m still stinging from being
refused service at a Taco Bell drive-thru late one night on bicycle in
Spokane. I now have hope that we may one-day share equal rights with
motorists to buy fast food junk.
MBC is also active in safety education in Maine schools, the Safe Routes
to School campaign, and educating drivers about bikes. Its all part of
what I see to be a lot of momentum for pro-bike policies all across the
continent, no around the world. Peak oil, climate change, and the
oil-lust debacle in Iraq, all point to pro-bike initiatives.
Off on a tangent, the sun came out this morning so I helped rake leaves
in my Maine friend’s huge yard. All the while thinking to myself, this
is stupid. We rake leaves from our yards so the grass will grow, so we
have to cut it. And if you carry it to its extreme, then we have to
fertilize so it’ll grow ‘healthy’ as the soil is depleted of its
nutrients by all the raking and mowing. Then add in all the waste
associated with bagging it in those big plastic garbage bags, and having
it hauled away to the landfill. (My friends compost theirs)
This rant is also inspired by the controversy in Moscow’s (Idaho)
upcoming city council election, where one of the old-school candidates
laments Moscow’s brown lawns of summer. Candidate Walter Steed boasts
that he can afford to keep a green lawn. He doesn’t seem to mind that
the aquifer is declining, or all the waste. These times are ripe for a
xeriscape movement, that is, climate appropriate landscaping. I think
the natural environment is lovely, and delight to see grass growing up
through cracks in the concrete. I wince when I hear people complain that
their trees are “messy,” because they drop leaves or needles in their
yards. I don’t see why nature needs an extreme makeover in the urban
|Portland - Bicycle Film Festival
September 12, 2007
I went to Portland for the Bicycle Film Festival. I’ve wanted to go for
a long time and since Ayamye* the film about VBP was the feature at the
matinee, it seemed like the right time to go do it. The BFF organizer
scolded the 40 people in attendance, on behalf of all the people who
weren’t there. “Isn’t this America’s number one bike city? Where is
everyone?” Out riding their bikes on a beautiful fall day I guess.
I stayed all day, going for the overdose. In the evening the theatre
filled, a noisy crowd cheered a group of kamikazee cyclists captured by
helmet cam in New York. I remained quiet, watching while they played
Russian roulette weaving counter-flow down one-way streets. The crowd
roared, and roared some more as high speed cyclists slammed red lights
making drivers hit their brakes to keep from bloodying their grills. As
acts of bold defiance go, it looks great, but really its terrorism. You
don’t know those drivers. You can’t presume that each one of those
drivers you’ve terrified by threatening your own suicide is wrong for
driving. You are suicide bombers. By behaving as if every car is the
enemy you share a mentality that kind of reminds me of Cheney and his
Then they took to the sidewalks, full speed, terrorizing pedestrians.
“NOOO!!,” I shouted. There is nothing remotely righteous about that one;
I hope I’m not the only one who noticed.
|Report to Email List, Late July 2007
1.VBP at Bicycle Film Festival
The annual Bicycle Film Festival is coming to 16 cities worldwide, and
includes the film Ayamye* about VBP’s work in Ghana. Ayamye shows how
people’s lives are transformed by the bikes they receive in our
1. Women’s programs solidify
Ghanaian Gloria Adoboe, in April became the first woman and the fifth
person to join our team of trainers. Her presence and leadership sends
an important message to all who participate in our workshops, that
Ghanaian women can also be competent and capable bike repairers and bike
repair instructors for both men and women.
Gloria has taught at workshops in two villages since becoming a VBP
trainer, including an all women’s workshop at Kpedze in June.
A new American volunteer, Liz Bageant will be the Women’s Programs
Coordinator through November. Liz’s main duties will be to organize
programs and provide support and training for Gloria and other female
instructors. Our women’s programs differ from our regular One-day
workshops in that there is a lot of emphasis in follow-up support for
women who want to learn more repair. We have yet to meet a female bike
repairer in Ghana who was not trained by VBP. What this mostly means, is
that bike repair has been a trade completely dominated by men. We are
thrilled to be breaking the barrier!
Liz comes to Ghana well qualified, with a year of experience in AIDS
education in Mozambique, and a year of bike repair instruction and
organizing at a community bike shop in Ithaca, New York.
and now, heeeeeeere’s Liz:
I've been in Ghana for almost a month and soon Dave leaves and I'm
my own for the next four months. I'll be traveling to women's
workshops throughout the country with Gloria and our other trainers.
My focus will be on helping Gloria get as much experience teaching
order to grow as an instructor as well as a repairer. I will also be
conducting follow-up interviews with past program participants in
Volta Region in order to evaluate the program, find out what is
working and what is not working and how we can do better! We're also
hoping to find some women who want to know more bicycle repair and
nurture their interest. Of course, all of my carefully-laid plans
are subject to change at any moment because....this is Ghana! Stay
2. Programs keep growing
In the first six months of 2007, six partner groups like Bikes Not Bombs
have sent over 4000 bikes in ten shipments. All of last year we sent 13
Workshops are growing even faster. In the first half of 07, 800 people
have gotten bikes and maintenance training in our One-day program,
almost as many as all of last year.
|Annual Report Spillover
Wednesday, February 14, 2007
Every year when I put together the annual report for the bike project I
have serious cutting and squeezing to do to cram as much as I can into
four pages. It reminds me of loading containers full of bikes.... when
we have more than enough bikes and parts.
So I'll start using this blog for the great leftovers, the stuff that
didnt make the final cut for the report.
I’ve been wanting to write this down ever since I saw it in The Daily
Graphic, the Ghana equivalent to US’ New York Times. On Dec. 12, 2006,
the DG reported that Ghana’s “Minister of Women and Children’s Affairs
Hajima Alima Mahama, has called on women to take interest in acquiring
technical skills to enhance their economic independence.
“She urged women to venture into areas such as carpentry, painting and
The story did not mention bicycle repair, a profession that has yet to
be picked up by the vocational education sector. VBP would definitely
like to move in this direction, but we are not ready to call her up. She
might say, "go for it," and we dont have the resources today. First we
need to improve on our Earn-a-Bike 40-hour training. With our new
women’s programs, we will be informally helping women grow skills to the
limits of their interest and our ability.
My goal is to do things well, so I’m in no hurry to set up programs
before they’re ready. I see tooo much of that already in Ghana!
Posted by david peckham at 7:50 PM
|16 May 05--Video happenings
First, Marsha Que Sera
Productions recently completed a DVD shot during the loading of
the container in hometown Moscow, Idaho last September. “New Life for
Old Bikes.” Marsha did a great job of getting me to tell about what
we’re doing and why, in 11 minutes.
Second, Los Angeles based documentary team EMP is on location in Ghana now, meeting
people who will soon be getting bikes at workshops we’re holding in
Songornya. They shot the container loading at Bikes Not Bombs in Boston
in April. They plan on staying in Ghana until mid-June.
FIFTH ANNUAL BICYCLE FILM FESTIVAL www.bicyclefilmfestival.com
This year, the festival is expanding across the world! Not only San
Francisco and New York, but also Los Angeles, London, and Tokyo will
participate. The Bicycle Film Festival celebrates the bicycle in all its
forms and all bicycle-related phenomena - Tall Bike Jousting, Track
Bikes, BMX, Alleycats, Critical Mass, Bike Polo, Recumbents. What better
way to celebrate these lifestyles than through art, film, music and
performance? The festival brings together all aspects of bicycling to
advocate its ability to transport us in many ways. Ultimately, of
course, the Fest is about having a good time. New York: May 12-15. Los
Angeles: June 17-18. London: August 25-27. San Francisco: October 6-8.
Tokyo: November 4-5.
|6 April 2005
This news from Simon, one of our Earn-a-Bike trainers who also
co-ordinates One-day workshops.
I WANT TO ASSURE YOU THAT ALOT OF PEOPLE ARE NOT GIVING ME
CHANCE TO BREATH BECAUSE OF THE ONE-DAY WORKSHOP.DAVID
PEOPLE NEED OUR HELP DUE TO THE RECENT INCREMENT IN
PETROLUIM PRICE. YOU NEED TO CONSIDER THIS THING AS
Also, two weeks after the northern workshops they want more bikes.
After doing four at Yapei, (our second trip there) and two at Kparigu,
the Peace Corps volunteer there has 120 more people signed up, paid and
ready for workshops.
|20 March 2005
George, Abokyi and the other assistant Moro recently returned from our
second trip to northern Ghana, where they held six one-day workshops and
an Advanced class. 120 people got discounted bikes and a day’s worth of
repair ed. This marks the biggest series of workshops ever. It is so
far from Accra (13 hour drive) that we figure it is best to do plenty if
possible. Our first trip north was just last October.
Colleague Merlin Mathews of Re~Cycle was recently in Ghana and reports
that bicycle prices have fallen considerably over the last several
years. This is most likely due to increases in supply of bikes, as
prices for everything else have risen. In February the government
raised fuel prices by 50% to about 70 cents a liter. We’ll see
what that does for bike prices.
|8 - March 2005
Center is now collecting bikes and parts for Village Bicycle
Project. You can drop off your bikes and stuff at the Recycling
Center, or better yet, since you’re reading this, save me a trip and
drop them by my house, 913 South Jefferson, Moscow, anytime, 24/7,
(quietly if its late!).
> > -----Original Message-----
> > From: sharon miller [mailto:email@example.com] Sent:
> > Wednesday, March 02, 2005 11:17 PM
> > To: firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com;
> > firstname.lastname@example.org;
> > email@example.com
> > Subject: Traderbug Network
> > Dear Webmaster:
> > My family and I recently attempted to organize a
> > trip to Ghana in West
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> > network run by Mr. Mansa
> > Musa after a web search. This is an insolvent
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> > after Mr. Musa attempted to dupe us into signing up
> > for his "trip" to
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> > were particularly cautious this time around. Looking through
> > Musa's website I realized this
> > company listing you on its
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> > for other innocent
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> > organization. Sharon Miller
|7 feb 2005
George and Abokyi recently returned to Accra from two Kopeyia workshops
and only our second Advanced class, and George is excited about it. “It
went very well, and they loved the tools. They all want pumps.”
So now, George and co. will bring 40 bikes or other multiples of 20, and
hold a one-day crash courses in bicycle maintenance and all 20 attendees
can buy a bike for half-price. Then on the third day they can come back
for an advanced class and buy tools for half price. advanced toolslist
I am also excited about it. Already we’re seeing trends. They want
pumps and spanners (no surprise there). So the project seems to be
addressing another need, pumps. And we didn’t have to do a big study to
find it out. We'll have more info on the advance class tools,...later.
|4 feb 2005
I’m making a little wages for the first time in the project’s history.
We had about $500 leftover from 2004 so I’m finally able to make time to
fix the website and apply for grants.
Coming up, we got about 200 bikes in eastern Washington and North Idaho
to take to Seattle for a shipment, but since Bike Works’ free storage
got torn down, (frequent fate of free storage) they can barely store
their keeper bikes, let alone the 250 needed to fill the rest of the