October 04

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John and Dayna in Uganda – Bicycles Galore!

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Since we have been in Uganda we are regularly amazed, confused, and amused by the abundance of different daily sights and sounds. One of the most common and intriguing highlights is the constant presence of people with and on bicycles.

What makes the sightings here so interesting, besides the sheer number of bikes present, is the many, many ways that people here utilize this mode of transport. Africa seems to be a place where the population tries to utilize every resource, and sometimes necessity leads to great invention. It is apparent that owning a bicycle here is often a great thing.

We have read different articles on how in many developing countries the bicycle is much in demand. They are used not only for an enjoyable trek down the road, but for transporting goods, people (sometimes more than 2), and are often the mainstay for a person’s income. Interestingly, we learned that bikes can be more important than cars in remote, poverty stricken communities.

In the last few months, we have witnessed some amazing cargo being transported via a bicycle. In parts of the county when the Matoke (green banana) is ready to go to market, we have seen MANY people pushing (not riding) a bicycle loaded with big, heavy stalks of this fruit, often going uphill for what we consider an extremely long distance. Wow.

We have observed bikes laden with a huge metal container that is most likely filled to the brim with milk. Again, sometimes these people are pushing the bike uphill with their heavy load.

It is nice to see that the bicycle is often used to transport water. Most days we have seen people (mostly women) carrying a 20 liter container of water on their head. THIS IS ABOUT 44 POUNDS! Amazing!

There have been sightings of bicycles loaded with huge quantities of pineapples or other fruit. Some are toting quantities of twenty-liter containers. We have seen livestock such as chickens on the back or front of bikes. Some of these two wheeled vehicles looked like meat wagons as they were covered in butchered animal (a vegetarian’s nightmare). Everywhere (but especially in the rural parts of the country) we see bikes weighed down with every conceivable construction material you can think of.

We read that there are parts of this country where the fastest way to get to the hospital (perhaps when one is in labor even) is to utilize a bicycle. Health workers with bicycles can also bring vaccination programs to villages far from the main road, using insulated medicine boxes mounted on the back of the bike. It makes sense that midwives, nurses treating AIDS patients, and physiotherapists for example can all reach their patients much more easily. When health emergencies arise, every second counts and here a bicycle can be the ambulance that Ugandans need. A bicycle here can save lives.

So what about the bicycles themselves? Once in a very great while we see a mountain bike, but the vast majority of bicycles that we see look like rusted, well worn, sturdy workhorses. They have one gear and brakes that look like they might or might not work.

We learned that one problem is that many people here cannot afford a bicycle. The good news is that a few minutes of research showed us that there are many organizations in Uganda that work to get bicycles in the hands of those who cannot afford one:

The Bicycle Sponsorship Project – The main aim is to provide bicycles to the most needy in society, especially women, as a contribution to eradication of poverty.
FABIO helps by providing bicycles for pupils and teachers, instructs pupils in road safety, trains women to be confident in their riding, and also to help shift public attitudes.
Bikes 4 Life is a global community initiative that is dedicated to providing bicycles to people, particularly youth, who are underprivileged, aimed at helping the most vulnerable, isolated and neglected groups within society.
Bicycles Against Poverty is a registered nonprofit organization that distributes bicycles to individuals in Africa who pay back for the bikes in monthly installments. The bike beneficiaries attend two free workshops, a bicycle repair seminar and a money management workshop, which are both taught by local community leaders.
Bicycle Sponsorship Project and Workshop<a in Uganda started a bicycle-on-credit project for small entrepreneurs in Baitambogwe. We read on their website that the bicycles are given out via a Sacco, an informal bank providing micro credit facilities to low income communities. Participants in the project tell us that they use the bicycle to fetch water and food for their animals (some engage in poultry rearing, others in piggery), transport locally brew gin, agricultural produce and as bicycle taxi (boda boda). In most cases already an increase in income is can be seen. In many cases also children use the bicycle every once in a while to go to school.

These organizations seem to be doing great work.

While it is challenging to navigate a car through traffic here due to the congestion created by the flood of autos, pedestrians, motorcycles and bicycles, the more we know and learn about the importance of the bike to the people here makes it worth the extra diligence. Ride on!