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Bikes Not Bombs sends thousands of donated bicycles to developing countries

Posted by  February 22, 2014 10:00 AM

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Volunteers load bikes for this year’s first shipment, Feb. 2.

William Daniels

The Jamaica Plain organization Bikes Not Bombs loaded a shipping container with more than 500 hundred bikes and spare parts on Feb. 2 to be sent to its partner in Koforidua, Ghana, Ability Bikes Cooperative. BNB uses bikes as vehicle for social change both in Third World countries and within the community.  [Check out more photos]

“Impoverished nations have high labor and low amounts of raw material,” said Farid Quraishi, a volunteer at BNB. “A bike is raw material. You can solve a problem with a simple piece of technology.”

Since 2008, Ability Bikes Cooperative in Ghana, a small bike shop with owners and mechanics, has been run entirely by physically disabled employees. 

“It’s really two big impacts,” said BNB Operations Director Arik Grier of the shipment of bikes to Ghana. “One is providing thousands of bicycles to the city of Koforidu, and advanced mechanic skills and the tools to have bicycle repair. Then, on the other hand, it’s also an employment for the people running the business.”

Each partner project is different, but in Koforidua, Ability Bikes is a workers’ cooperative. BNB sent over the first shipment of bikes in 2008, along with a mechanics trainer to help set up the business. The money made from selling the bikes goes towards paying the workers and future shipping costs.

The next shipment will be sent in April to Bici-Tec in San Andrés, Guatemala. Founded in 2012, Bici-Tec is a small family-run business that sells “bicimáquinas” or a stationary, pedal-powered machines made out of bicycle parts. The contraptions are able to de-grain corn, grind corn, work as water pumps, pulp coffee, shell nuts and much more.

“These machines are mostly used by farm families or farm cooperatives,” said Grier. “It’s a cheaper way, rather than paying for electricity or gas for machinery.”

All of the machines are re-built, in Guatemala, out of donated bicycles. Throughout the year about 5,000 to 6,000 bikes go through BNB, Grier said. Out of those bikes about 80 percent are donated overseas and 20 percent goes to youth programs here in Boston, the BNB bike shop, and metal recycling. To prepare the bikes for shipments, volunteers come in every Thursday night to sort donated gear or “flatten” bikes – position each bike so it will take up as little space as possible when shipped. 

“Most people come here repeatedly,” said Quraishi.

Dan Reid, who just recently moved back to Boston, said he volunteers almost every Thursday night. Reid said that even though the donated bicycles may be broken down or worn out, they are better than the bicycles most people have in Third World countries. 

“Not all of the bikes have all of their parts, but they may be useful somewhere 
along the line,” said Reid.

Reid said that typically there are about 30 people who come to volunteer nights, but in the winter it can be kind of slow. All of the bikes are donated by people in Massachusetts and through BNB’s annual Bike-A-Thon, which will take place this year on June 8, where about 500 riders participate in a 10, 30, 50, or 80-mile ride.

Quraishi said he first got started with BNB when he participated in the Bike-A-Thon about two years ago. He met a lot of cool people along the way and stayed in touch with the people he met. Ever since, Quraishi said, “I’ve always tried to make it a point to come.”

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This article is being published under an arrangement between the Boston Globe and Emerson College.

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