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World Bicycle Relief

This is not music-related, as is our habit, but I believe that it is important. World Bicycle Relief is an outstanding charity, based on brilliant concepts that is doing some very important work in distressed areas of the world.

The concept originated with Chicago businessman F.K. Day and his SRAM Corp. Day responded to the devastation in Sri Lanka and Indonesia caused by the tsunami of 2004 by creating a program to distribute free bicycles to thousands. Teaming with Trek, the bicycle manufacturer that has provided bikes to 7-time Tour de France Champion Lance Armstrong, Day developed a solid, strong, long-lasting bicycle with the fat tires necessary for countries with few roads and little, or no, paving.

The bicycles are credited with significantly speeding the economic recovery of the devastated areas. They were the initial mode of transportation for almost all commerce. With huge medical needs and few remaining facilities or roads, locals trained in basic injury treatment and medical care, traveling the countryside on bicycles WERE the health care system for a time.

In a further stroke of brilliance, WBR decided to manufacture many of the parts and to build ALL of the bicycles locally, thus provided steady jobs to impoverished communities. Training programs in bicycle mechanics and maintenance will provide long-term jobs and keep the bikes in service forever, like the old Buicks in Cuba.

The segment of WBR’s work that is nearest and dearest to my heart is providing bicycles to for children, especially girls, to be able to get to school. The folks at World Bicycle Relief can describe it best:

The Need for Education

Research shows that education is an essential element in the fight to end the cycle of disease and poverty in Africa. According to the World Bank, “A basic education has a general preventative impact: it can inform children and youth and equip them to make decisions concerning their own lives, bring about long-term behavioral change, and give them the opportunity for economic independence – all fundamental to prevention, and therefore to hope.”

However, for many children in rural Zambia, it is especially difficult to complete their education. Family dependence on the contribution of children in economic activities, the impact of HIV/AIDS on families, the increasing populations of orphans, the growing number of child-headed households and extreme levels of poverty have resulted in only 60% of Zambian children in primary school completing their secondary education.

Of special concern is the reduced school participation of girls, who have less opportunity for education than boys. A 1998 study showed that girls in Zambia spend more time on productive work than any group of adult men, including fuel and water collection, caring for younger siblings and support of household businesses.

While the scope of this problem is broad, one way identified to immediately increase school enrollment and the children’s health is safe, reliable transportation. It is not uncommon for a student to walk 20 km to and from school – a four-hour commute each day. According to a 2007 report by the Zambian Ministry of Education, walking long distances puts children at risk for harassment, sexual abuse, poor nutrition and an inability to provide critical support for their families. High school students must travel even further and often rent rooms near school, which puts them at risk of transactional sex and other dangers of living away from parental supervision.

Visit their website to read more: www.worldbicyclerelief.org

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