Canberra is a great place to get out on a bike. For those who have discovered the joy of cycling, a bike can be a means to better health and well-being, a way to reduce stress, a taste of freedom and a trusted friend. But for people in developing countries, a bike can mean so much more. We were moved recently to hear about global charity, World Bicycle Relief, and the work they do providing bikes as a tool for empowerment for people living in poverty.
World Bicycle Relief was set up in the wake of the catastrophic 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, by Leah Missbach Day and her husband F Day, who recognised that bikes could play a role in getting people through the wreckage of the disaster to places that cars could no longer access. Knowing a standard bike would not be tough enough, they came up with the Buffalo Bicycle, a heavy-duty bike that could carry heavy loads and was easy to repair. 24,000 Buffalo Bicycles were distributed to Sri Lankans left homeless by the tsunami, and World Bicycle Relief was born.
Since then the charity has distributed over 400,000 bikes to people in developing countries. Distance can be a huge barrier for people whose primary mode of transport is walking, and access to bikes can have a massive impact on their ability to access education and healthcare and gain financial independence.
One of World Bicycle Relief’s key successes has been removing roadblocks to the education of girls. In sub-Saharan Africa school attendance by girls is low, with many walking more than 10 km to and from school each day– a daily routine that is tiring, time-consuming, and often highly dangerous, with many at risk of attack or sexual assault. Bikes protect girls from violence and get them to school four times faster than walking, allowing them to complete homework and chores more quickly and easily. Girls who have received a Buffalo Bicycle have up to 28% increase in school attendance and 59% improvement in academic performance.
Buffalo Bicycles are also leading to improved healthcare. Over 140,000 community health workers in sub-Saharan Africa have been mobilised, enabling them to travel further, see more patients, and spend more time with them. This allows them to access patients in remote areas and treat medical issues before they become critical. World Bicycle Relief is also helping workers and small business owners improve productivity by providing bikes to get people to and from work, transport goods, and travel to local markets.
World Bicycle Relief has a connection to the Canberra cycling community through cycling ambassador Anna Gurnhill, the Global Operations Manager for local cycle tourism company CycleLifeHQ, cyclist and Ironman.
“I love to set my own goals, work hard, and achieve results,” said Anna. “I’m incredibly lucky and grateful to live this lifestyle, where cycling gives me a sense of joy, freedom, purpose and power: it enables me to explore, to journey, and to grow.
“I’ve come to realise that the good old, humble bike provides a similar opportunity – albeit in a very different sense – to many disadvantaged people worldwide; and how aligned my own feelings for cycling is to the work being undertaken by World Bicycle Relief,” said Anna
As a World Bicycle Relief Ambassador, Anna has raised money through her own training, and through events such as an International Women’s Day fundraising ride held in conjunction with EY and the CycleLifeHQ team.
“Just two weeks ago the very first UN World Bicycle Day was held in recognition of the power of the bicycle as a tool for international development. For me, the work of World Bicycle Relief is living proof that bicycles can change lives, and that it is a truly powerful and transformative machine”, said Anna.
Pedal Power is partnering with World Bicycle Relief to develop fundraising opportunities for the Canberra community to support their valuable work. For more information on World Bicycle Relief and to make a tax-deductible donation, go to https://worldbicyclerelief.org/en/ or http://audonate.worldbicyclerelief.org/. You can contribute directly to Anna’s page, and read more about her training pursuits and efforts for WBR at http://fundraiseau.worldbicyclerelief.org/anna-gurnhill