Africa, Here We Come!

On November 3rd, we loaded 31 bikes to be shipped to West Africa. This was a monumental chapter in this book called Life-Cycle.

You have to rewind back 18 months to the summer of 2011 to understand where this Africa project came from… At our previous warehouse, one of our bike repair volunteers asked me what our next goal would be. We had grown significantly in both the number of bikes donated to us as well as the number of bikes we distributed back out to the community. I sensed the the question was rooted in the number of bikes we fixed up and gave out. So I started to do the math in my head (we had essentially doubled each year since we started in 2008) but resisted the temptation to respond with a number. Not that throwing out a big number would be an easy task, it wouldn’t be… But what if we, instead of thinking of growth in terms of numbers, we focused on growth in terms of geographical impact! The challenge then would be – could we remove the barriers of our local communities and somehow find a way to go global? The volunteer chuckled and dismissed my response (as I’ve been known to think big – most times TOO big).

And so the idea was dropped. Or so I thought.

Many months later, Heather came across a friend in one of her many networking circles who knew an organization up in Anoka who she thought shipped some “stuff” to Africa every now and then. It turns out, United Methodist Church (UMC) of Anoka started a mission to build classrooms, clinics, and churches in Sierra Leone and Liberia, West Africa in 1989. For years, they had been building critical infrastructure in small towns and villages and to accomplish this, they load up shipping containers full of building materials, school supplies, medical supplies, etc. to send off to it’s final destination across the Atlantic Ocean.

After a meeting with Pastor Lyndy Zabel of UMC, it was clear this was a match made in Heaven. With classrooms, clinics, and churches being built in remote villages, it was difficult to persuade the teachers, nurses, and pastors who lived in the larger towns to come. Unless they had access to basic transportation. Like a bike!

So it was decided in March of this year. We would set aside a number of bikes to convert to single speed (to reduce the maintenance) throughout the summer with the goal of getting them shipped on the November container. At first, it didn’t seem too big of a task. Until September rolled around and we were still feverishly working to fill local requests – the wait list was still 75+ long (after we’ve already given out 400 bikes this summer). We rallied the community and our volunteers in October to donate 31 adult size bikes, convert them to single speed (remove shifters, derailleurs, shorten chain), tune up brakes, wheels, tires, then break them down to fit into bike boxes. After many late nights, we finally finished. And on November 3rd, we loaded 31 bikes into a truck headed to the main Indiana warehouse where they would be collected with the other supplies and reloaded into the shipping containers headed overseas.

We’ll keep you updated on the transport progress.

Many thanks to everyone involved in helping Project Life-Cycle go GLOBAL!