Village Bicycle Project
Village Bicycle Project (VBP) is a completely volunteer-run organization that collects and sends second-hand bicycles to community partners only in Ghana and Sierra Leone.
VBP has been in operation since 1999 and has its base headquarters in Seattle, USA.
It was originally founded to provide transport options of Ghana’s rural residents and farmers and has since expanded on this aim.
VBP facilitates the on-the-ground distribution and sales of bicycles that are either sourced through direct donation or via collection drives undertaken by local partner organisations based in the USA, Canada and Europe, such as Bike Works (Seattle), Recycle-a-Bicycle (New York City) and Bikes not Bombs (Chicago).
Their motto is Affordable and sustainable transportation to Africa and Changing lives in Africa.
The core philosophy framing all VBP policy and practice is not to give bicycles for free.
A clear statement on the VBP website explains the justification for this ideology as being threefold. They believe that supplying free bikes will flood the local market which undermines local bike enterprises and associated livelihoods, that free bikes do not remain in possession of those who need it most and that it devalues the bicycle as well as precipitates a reliance on aid.
Once the bikes are sourced, they undergo rigorous condition checks to ensure that only second-hand bikes of excellent quality are included, while the rest are stripped for parts.
When collection reaches distribution point, a 40” shipping container is filled with 450 bicycles and is shipped over to distribution partners in Africa.
Each shipment is divided into three streams on arrival, 150 bikes are reserved for VBP one-day maintenance workshops, a quota is reserved for other partnership initiatives (such as supplying bicycles for rural teachers). The rest of the bicycles and extra parts are sold to local bike retailers to pay the $5000 cost of shipping the container to Africa.
VBP ships about 20 containers to Africa each year.
As well as supplying bicycles, tools and spare parts, VBP provides access to mechanics for assistance and runs a number of programs. Programs include bicycles with maintenance workshops, learn to ride, bicycle mechanic training and bicycle collection and distribution.
The one-day maintenance workshop is free for anyone who has purchased one of their bikes. This course shows new owners how change flat tires, check gears and brakes and provides advice to increase biking confidence and safe riding practices.
Girls-only riding and bicycle programs
VBP specifically targets women and girls for inclusion to help begin to address the gender inequalities that limit accesses to bicycles (VBP, 2015).
The VBP website states that as of 2017, they achieved: 106,000 bikes supplied to Ghana and Sierra Leone, 3500 girls and women have learnt to ride a bike through one of their programs; 18,000 people have been trained in bike repairs; and 60,00 tools have been distributed to support the increase of bicycles in communities (VBP, 2016).
In 2014 with the help of Clara Matthews, VBP launched their girls’ only after-school month long ‘learn to ride’ classes in Lunsa, Sierra Leone. These classes were held in community parks to capitalise on being open air, friendly and socially inclusive programs within the community and were used to try to improve community acceptance of more girls riding bicycles.
VBP features in Laurens Hof’s (2016) Master’s Thesis entitled Teaching girls how to ride a bicycle: gender and cycling in Lunsar, Sierra Leone, and as a case study in Jack Furness One less car: Bicycling and the politics of automobility, but has so far not been included in any empirical academic publications beyond being mentioned in passing.
All images from Village Bicycle Project.