Why Bicycles in Africa Put a Smile on My Face

(Or: This Is More Useful Than a Silly T-Shirt)

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A buddy teaches a volunteer how to ride.
A buddy teaches a volunteer how to ride. Credit: Brenda Veldtman
I find a lot of things annoying (like use of the royal we). I'm curmudgeonly that way. But nothing more so than people who work in office jobs and act as if they have the most stressful lives in the world. As Daddy Adages always says, "If you're getting paid more than 10 bucks an hour and you ain't digging ditches, keep your trap shut and your head down." What also bugs me is people who think that buying brightly colored T-shirts from retail stores is going to save a continent.

So forgive me if I heap a little praise on Bicycling magazine's BikeTown Africa project, which benefits home healthcare workers toiling in AIDS-stricken parts of Africa. The Rodale title teamed up with Kona Bicycling Co. to distribute bikes to assist workers in caring for patients with HIV/AIDS in Senegal and Namibia. Why the bikes? Says Dr. Zencani Chirwa, chief medical officer of the Mapilelo Project, the HIV/AIDS clinic receiving the bikes: "Before we got these bicycles, our volunteers had to walk long distances to carry out their duties." With the bikes, "they can shorten these distances and should be able to double or triple the number of client visits per day."

Bicycling Editor and BikeTown Founder Steve Madden, along with Communications Director Josephine Parr and reps from Kona Bicycling and Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation's Secure the Future program just returned from Katima, Namibia and will go to Tambacounda, Senegal, in the fall. While in-country a number of volunteers helped the team build the bikes and, in some cases, taught others how to ride bikes.

Now don't you feel slightly ashamed about wearing T-shirts to "raise awareness"? Aren't you feeling a little guilty for whining about your 45-minute commute to an air-conditioned office? That's not to say there was nothing to complain about on the BikeTown trip. Apparently five roosters living near the truck stop where the team slept crowed throughout the night. According to Parr, "We all ate chicken every night hoping to get rid of at least one of them."
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