Village Bicycle Project

Village Bicycle Project - Bicycles Create

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.

Village Bicycle Project - Bicycles Create

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.

Village Bicycle Project - Bicycles Create

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.

Village Bicycle Project - Bicycles Create

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.


Village Bicycle Project - Bicycles Create

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).

Village Bicycle Project - Bicycles Create

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.

Village Bicycle Project - Bicycles Create

All images from Village Bicycle Project.

The Cultural Significance of Bicycles in Cameroon

By Gabriel Besong Etchu


Bicycles are western innovations that were designed for sightseeing, leisure, sports and short-distanced movement. However, in Cameroon, bicycles play a fundamental role regarding of our cultural exigencies. Before the arrival of cars and motorcycles, bicycles were regarded as ostentatious goods and a basic necessity when it comes to cultural issues such as marriages. For example, before a man marries a woman, he has to do “knock-door” which simply implies that he can only seek the consent of the woman’s parents by knocking their door with a bicycle.


This bicycle will be used by the future spouse to go to farms that are far away, and to local market places. This is why in Cameroon, bicycles are often regarded as part and parcel of the bride price. Below is a picture of a young farmer who has accumulated some capital in order to afford a used bicycle, which he could offer as part of the price for his bride. In addition, it is generally believed in Cameroon that when a married woman stresses for long by trekking every day, she will wither like a flower. Therefore, in Cameroon, bicycles have a dual cultural significance in relation to marriage.


Source: World Culture Pictorial
Source: World Culture Pictorial


Gabriel Beson Etchu is our Guest Blogger, unveiling some of Cameroon’s bicycle culture for the fortnight from 2nd May to 15th May.

Cameroon’s President Biya ‘loves’ bicycles too.

By Gabriel Besong Etchu


Bicycles are utilised by many African Presidents and more precisely, by the Cameroon President Paul Biya, as an instrument to demonstrate their physical fitness and ability to lead their nation.


Not ‘fit’ to lead?

In the early 1990s, there was a public outcry of criticisms regarding President Biya’s physical and intellectual ability to pilot the state affairs of Cameroon. These criticisms were largely because he had been in power since 1982 until the present date of 2016, well over 32 years in power. Many people thought he had withered like a flower and was no longer ‘fit’ to lead the nation.


A show of strength

To end these public critiques, President Biya made a well-publicised display of riding a bicycle in public, covering a distance of 2 km as a means of sensitising and informing his compatriots that he is still up to the task of leading Cameroon, despite his advanced age. It was clearly a bold move, but one that was strategically designed to stopping naysayers and to exemplify the necessary vigour , strength and fitness required for both tasks. What a confident image he portrays. Bicycles are integral to social status and power. So in this instance, it is clear to see the political significance of bicycles in Cameroon.

Bicycles are integral to social status and credibility in Cameroon. This instance clearly demonstrates their role and importance – in this case, for the political significance of bicycles in Cameroon.




Gabriel Beson Etchu is our Guest Blogger, unveiling some of Cameroon’s bicycle culture for the fortnight from 2nd May to 15th May.

Rural Sub-Saharan Africa – Bicycles and economic empowerment

By Gabriel Beson Etchu


In Sub-Saharan Africa, bicycles are considered to be the primary source of mobility. Most people in these countries use bicycles to travel to faraway places to fend for their livelihood. Others use bicycles to reach areas where land is fertile for agriculture, to transport their farm products to local markets and to seek for health facilities located far away.


Economic Uses

In this region, there are glaring examples of men carrying more than 2oo liters of water using a simple bicycle. No wonder, NGOs like Plan International have recognise the economic importance of bicycles and have equally embarked on a massive distribution of bicycles to countries like Cameroon and Burkina Faso not only to fight hunger and starvation but also to promote education as well.


Political Uses

Even dictatorial governments and corrupt politicians in Sub-Saharan Africa countries provide bicycles to soldiers, so as to penetrate the hinterlands and to make sure that they remain in power. Many people have seen pictures in the media and online of Cameroonian soldiers who are often sent by bicycle to the hinterlands or non-accessible areas to counteract the infiltration of the Islamic Sect, Boko Haram. Hence, one could also talk of the political importance of bicycles in Sub-Saharan Africa.


Source: Kristian Platten
Source: Kristian Platten


Gabriel Beson Etchu is our Guest Blogger, unveiling some of Cameroon’s bicycle culture for the fortnight from 2nd May to 15th May.


First Ever Black Female UCI RWC

When researching for this blog, I read about many inspiring and rewarding stories, projects and groups – but this one stopped me dead in my tracks.

I was incredibly moved this week to see that this month’s UCI Road World Championships in Richmond, USA saw the debut of the first ever black African female cyclist – Jeanne d’Arc Girubuntu from Team Rwanda.

Jeanne d’Arc has come onto the scene at a very opportune time and given that I am currently researching the devastating fact that being a female restricts all aspects of life in many countries – and that bicycles can often provide some means to ameliorate some of these issues – her participation at world class competitive cycling events is a game changer in also providing hope and opportunities for would-be cyclists from poor or war-torn countries.

That Jeanne d’Arc was the only black African woman on the podium this February, in Morocco at the African Continental Championships where she came second in the individual time trials speak volumes about a change very much needed in cycling – and that she has caused quite a welcomed stir in the media.

It is still quite a novelty to see Japanese riders in the Tour de France, so the impact and precedence that Jeanne d’Arc’s success could make cannot be underestimated.  Female cyclists worldwide have struggled to gain the attention, sponsorship, support and coverage that their male cycling counterparts have – compounded by dire socio-economic conditions and a lack of role models or any cultural history in the sport – what an amazing feat of self-belief to overcome such significant barriers!

Her success and presence opens up the cycling industry by providing a positive female role model for not just African women, but for all athletes who is under or not represented at world sporting events.

From the ashes

Hutu and Tutsi fighting first broke out in October 1990 and the conflict escalated to full-blown war crimes across Rwanda and drew in neighboring countries, like Tanzania, Zaire, Uganda and Burundi. Despite a UN intervention in 1993 being operationalized in Rwanda, a breakdown in peace talks in April 1994 (where the Presidents of Rwanda and Burundi were killed) set off a tidal wave of attacks, crimes and ethnic killings. 1994 -1997 saw some of the Rwanda’s worst and most unspeakable violence, war rape and genocide to occur during African’s First War. This crippled the country, and in 1994, half of Rwanda’s 7.5 million people were forced to leave their homes and yet the protracted and ferocious fighting continued. Finally in 1999, the official fighting was brought under control, yet this left 40% of Rwanda either dead or fled – and those left behind severely traumatised. The country has been struggling to repair ever since.

Jeanne d’Arc Girubuntu was born in 1995, so she only 21, which means she was born and grew up in this situation – which in itself is a remarkable thought. The fact that she is also a very gifted cyclist AND has found a way to train to an elite level AND found support so that she has reached the position she is in now is nothing less than astonishing.

On so many levels, her story is one of inspiration, courage, dedication and commitment – and also one of hope and change.

I am in awe of Jeanne d’Arc, her supporters and team – and have no doubt that her influence and presence will ignite inspiration and admiration both on and off the bike.

I am excited to see what developments and changes will happen – best of luck Jeanne d’Arc!!

Image: Dean-Warren Source: Cycling
Image: Dean-Warren Source: Cycling

Monitoring Child Labour on Bikes

The Art Bike that I have been working on for Sunday’s presentation is about Child Labour. I’ve been looking into the global statistics and issues involved with child labour and it is not surprising that poverty and circumstance play a massive role.

Child labour is a very difficult phenomena to quantify and collect accurate data on – and often results from different sources can be quite different.

The basis for my Art Bike is that 780 million children worldwide are engaged in some form of illicit labour work. Child labor, as defined by the International Labor Organization, is “work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and their dignity, and that is harmful to physical and mental development.”

The current situation

How is this linked to our experience? Matt Berg of the Borgen Project outlines that:

  •  Australia annually imports $16 million worth of tobacco produced by child labor, including tobacco produced in the U.S. Tobacco cultivation is extremely labor intensive and children are often subjected to serious health risks including nicotine poisoning.
  • Most cigarette smokers in Australia are unaware of the origins of the tobacco they consume.
  • According to the ILO, 168 million children worldwide are engaged in child labor as of 2013.Of these 168 million children, 85 million are engaged in what the ILO deems “hazardous work.”
  •  According to a study conducted by the ILO in 2004, the benefits of eradicating child labor would “outweigh costs by nearly six to one.”The sub-Saharan African region has the second highest number of child laborers in the world; about 59 million in 2012.
  • According to the Pew Research Center, children aged five to 17, or 21.4 percent, are involved in child labor while 10.4 percent are engaged in hazardous work.
  •  Agriculture accounts for 60 percent of child labor according to the ILO.Only one out of five children involved in child labor is paid for his or her work.The majority of children in child labor perform unpaid family work.
  •  About 60 percent of children in Ethiopia are engaged in some form of child labor. Many of these children work in the mining industry; an industry that poses some of the biggest dangers for child labourers.

The ECLT Foundation

The problem is often culturally systemic and driven by lack of access and opportunities to alternatives. However, there are a number of organisations that are working hard to address these issues – and most interestingly for me, is an outfit in Tanzania called the ECLT Foundation (Eliminating Child Labour in the Tobacco Industry Foundation.

Tanzania is interesting, because, although it is not in the current top 10 countries for child labour, its data on child labour is staggering. Agriculture is one of its primary and major industries, so one in every three Tanzanian children work to contribute to their family’s household income – and this is even more alarming as most child labourers live in rural or remote areas where most are engaged in hazardous conditions.

Child labour in the Tanzanian tobacco industry.

According to ECLT:

  • 84% of the parents of children working on the tobacco farms come from poor and very poor socio-economic backgrounds.
  • According to the 2006 Tanzania Labour Force Survey, 20.7% of children are engaged in child labour in Tanzania.
  • Tanzania’s main tobacco-producing areas tend to have low primary school enrolment.            
  • Most child labourers in Tanzania are unpaid family workers and work in addition to attending school.

To address such critical issues and to protect vulnerable children, the ECLT partnered with Winrock International and the International Labor Organisation to sponsor a conference convened by the Tanzania government—resulting in a commitment to action to end child labour in agriculture.

Using bikes to monitor and report on child labour.

Most interestingly (as I have highlighted in the quote), the ECLT ‘formed and supported Village Child Labour Committees on issues of child labour, identification, and monitoring. Because it is common for families to live six hours by foot from the nearest village, we also provided bicycles to committee members so that they could reach as many children as possible’ ( Yet again another incredibly worthwhile and productive use of bicycles to crest significant positive change for not just individual children, but families and communities alike. Bravo!!



Darfur Aid Workers

Much of the research I have been looking at so far has been on projects in stable communities. However, when emergency situations breakout, then personnel are deployed to wherever help is needed. One area of project work that is very interesting (and disturbing) to me, is: aid workers in high stress situations, such as internally displaced persons (IDP) camps.This is a case study which I was seriously considering as a focus for my research: to see how bicycles could be used in IDP camps to increase women’s safety and access to facilities.

But ironically, I knew that such a context as Darfur Aid would be too distressing for me to maintain researching, so it was a very deliberate and strategic move away to focus more on positive bicycle aid contexts. I remember thinking to myself  that I would burnout if all I heard were repeated stories of suffering……

But even so, although not directly related to my current research area, the scope, scale and variety of international aid and development work still fascinates me, so out of interest, I often find myself still looking into what work my fellow IAW brothers and sisters are undertaking around the world. Some of what I found recently indicates that there is increasing research regarding International Aid Worker (IAW) burnout and job stress.

I chose this particular article because it is a reminder of the massive range of projects, work and aid that is disseminated worldwide, most of which we never hear about in the West. I find it grounding to read outside my comfort zone (or research area), not just to keep up with current affairs, but also to remind myself that there is a whole army of people and organisations around the world doing incredibly noble, dangerous and immediate aid and development work. Most of it is in extraordinarily more difficult conditions than mine. It helps to keep my head in check and reframes my reality just that little bit clearly. It also keeps me honest and modest.

I have summarised a selection of the research undertaken by two UAE academics who were reporting on the psychological impact that IAW experienced whilst working during the Darfur war in Sudan.

Main findings:

  • 31.6 years was the mean age of the 53 IAW (Sudanese and International Aid Workers) researched (20-55 year old).
  • 50% of Aid Workers in Darfur could be classified as ‘non-psychotic psychiatric cases’.
  • The vast majority of Aid Workers in Darfur were local Sudanese who have a significantly higher rate of burnout and secondary traumatic stress compared to their International AW counterparts. Three main reasons for this were:
  1. They themselves are victims and are displaced
  2. They speak the local dialect so experience the full force of stories in detail
  3. They can relate more personally to the stories of the victims
  • Working in a stressful environment and exposure to prolonged extreme job stress means that many (qualified and experienced) aid workers stop doing their jobs – this has an immediate detrimental effect for victims.
  • There is a tendency of ‘maladjusted’ individuals who chose to be aid workers.
  • Due to exposure to trauma, IAW can indirectly or secondarily develop the same symptoms as the traumatised victims they are working with.
  • In females and hospital based emergency teams, burnout usually involves experiencing ‘a variety of psychological disturbances and distress that exceed the aid workers ability to cope and thus leads the person to total collapse’ (Louville et al, 1997:144 as cited in Musa & Hamid, 2008).
  • Burnout was positively related to general stress and secondary stress.
  • Burnout was negatively related to ‘compassion satisfaction’.


Compounding Factors:

-Direct contact with highly traumatised victims

-Hostile environment

-Aid victims tend to blame the IAW for supply shortages or service problems


There are 5 types of ‘burnout’ identified in IAW:

  1. Emotional (depression, anxiety, irritability)
  2. Interpersonal (self-distancing, withdrawal, ineffective communication)
  3. Physical (sleep disturbances, exhaustion, illnesses)
  4. Behavioural (alcohol abuse, aggression, cruelty)
  5. Work-related components (poor performance, tardiness, absenteeism)


Secondary trauma – 4 main aspects:

  1. Empathy with victims – increased vulnerability to internalising trauma and increasing trauma related pain
  2. Recovery time – listening to distressing stories repeatedly without sufficient time to process
  3. Reactivation – Having own past trauma experiences triggered by working with victims who are/have experience/d a similar situation to the IAW, especially in the case of the local Sudanese AW.
  4. Fragmented Contexts – current psychological approaches for IAWs are focused on individual services not team-orientated.  In a working situation like war, operations are never experienced individually; it is always with others, so there is a fragmentation between the experienced context with the follow up service (the team that works together is best debriefed and counselled together as well as individually – not just dealt with separately or in isolation to other team members).


General conclusions:

Certain conditions increase AW suffering.

Aid organisations need to create positive work climates to adequately include:

  • Adequate training
  • Cultural orientation
  • Psychological services

I hope the findings I have summarised here will stimulate your thinking about these critical ideas, and that you share and discuss what these findings mean in relation to your understanding of the world.



Musa, S. A., & Hamid, A. A. (2008). Psychological problems among aid workers operating in Darfur. Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal, 36(3), 407-416.

African Bicycle Ambulances

The research I looked at today was how African bicycle ambulances are being used to provide a more effective maternal health services.


This is an area of health services that has a high priority within the UN Millennium Development Goals and in Africa, this is an area of significant concern and where much aid effort is concentrated. One older Transaid project from Zambia, which implemented a number of bicycle ambulance projects in various regions in Africa, stood out for me in particular, so I thought I would share the project highlights with you.


Background to African Bicycle Ambulances

Transaid is a charity organisation established by the Charted Institutes of Logistics and Transport in association with Save the Children Fund. Its primary objective is to address major transportation issues faced by poor rural African health services. This project focuses on maternal health, as these indicators provide a solid representation of the efficiency of the overall health care system in a given area. Rural Africa faces severe patient mobility issues, even for short distances, with access and cost being the most critical factors, especially in emergencies and fistula cases. Additionally, the further demand and requirement for Immediate Modes of Transport (IMT) ‘is significant among maternity cases’ and this is most significant given that ‘one of the biggest reasons for the large number of maternal mortalities in developing countries is the time and distance pregnant women have to travel to the nearest clinic to receive proper care’ (Forster, Simfukwe, & Barber, 2010, pg 13). One example of the seriousness  of this situation comes from an Ethiopian Fistula Hospital, which reports that it takes women in labour an average of 11 hours to reach a health facility that can provide for their needs – and this is in the urban capital city of Addis Ababa!



To increase access to urgent health care services, 40 bicycle ambulances were provided to rural communities in Zambia in 2008, which provided a free bicycle ambulance service for community members. This project was better thought out than a number of others I have read, mainly as the bicycle ambulances were allocated to community-based home carers (personal) and not assigned to be stored and/or work out of a health clinic (location). This is much more appropriate, as location issues such as access to a bike (if they are in a room or shed on location which is locked), or only having one particular staff member who has a key, limited clinic opening hours or collecting oxen to be hitched to a cart from surrounding areas, – have all often hampered response times in similar projects. Additionally, ten local field mechanics were trained to construct and service the ambulances, which was found to be a major success factor.

Bicycle Ambulance Design considerations: Three different bicycle ambulance designs were trialled and assessed. A design with a stretcher, full canopy and a non-flexible hitch was the considered the most comfortable and popular by riders and patients. Other interesting feedback considerations were:
• The bicycle should be permanently attached to the ambulance to extend the life of hitch apparatus.
• Rear wheel post frame hitching made turning more difficult than seat post hitching.
• Provision for a pump, basic maintenance tools and a first aid kit is needed.
• Lights were required for night-time call-outs.
• Bicycles needed to be lighter or adequate gears used for uphill trips.
• Clothing should be provided such as a high visibility vest and a rain jacket.
• The size of local door frames was an issue as the original prototype ambulance was too wide to fit through a standard Namibian door frame – which impacted on patient transference.


• During the whole program, the bicycle ambulances took 251 life-saving journeys – the longest trip being 40 km.
• During the pilot program (first 4 months), the bicycle ambulances were used 82 times to transport patients to health care facilities.
• By having a personal bicycle ambulance, 96% of the recipient caregivers were able to be more effective in their work.
• Travel time was significantly reduced (from 2.5 hours by ox-cart down to 30 minutes) by using bicycle ambulance.
• Patient safety and comfort increased – they could lie down on the bicycle ambulance instead of sit (or ride) on a personal bike.
• The bicycle ambulance canopy provides shelter (rain, mud, sun, animals) and privacy for patients (especially important for women who are nearing birth – i.e. waters breaking etc).
• Having a stretcher attached meant that river crossings were much safer and easier and the bikes were able to take walking paths that oxcart transportation was unable to manage.



There has not been any further monitoring and evaluation data from this particular project – but as it stands, this project seems to be a step in the right direction. It is encouraging to see bicycles being utilised to help address some of the most pressing and urgent health issues that disadvantaged poor African women face. It is incredibly important that such initiatives are investigated, promoted and disseminated. It is also a very humbling reminder for people living elsewhere, (like Australia) who can often forget how significant and urgent basic (community) health services can be.


Source: Transaid

Forster, G., Simfukwe, V., & Barber, C. (2010). Bicycle ambulances have impact. Appropriate Technology, 37(3), 13.

Women & Mobility

Why women in developing countries should have Bicycles.

Mobility, especially to workplaces and markets, for the women and girls who make-up 70% of the world’s poor, is often hampered by distance, cost, carrying capacity, time and availability. Many of these women are limited to walking and in many cases headloading an average of 20kgs to transport goods. Rural African and Asian women will walk on average 6 kilometres each day for water, food and fuel collection, which prevents them from working or going to school and puts them at direct risk of sexual assault, whereas a bicycle is three times faster than walking (World Bank, 1996) and can carry up to seven times more than one woman headloading.

Women are often culturally restricted from operating or using motorised transportation. They are further constrained by often having children or other dependents with them, therefore less likely to get a ride. Bicycles significantly relieve these physical and transportation impediemnts, as well as being non-polluting, lower in cost, easier to customise for specific purposes and are generally easier to repair and maintain than other motorised forms of transport.

If indeed “one of the best ways to help the poor is to improve non-motorized transport” (World Bank, 1996 pg 73), then a bicycle is an obvious and logical strategy to help minimize the impacts of poverty. Investment in women has massive knock-on effects considering that for each woman who is able to break out of the poverty cycle, four other people are taken with her as a result. Such an outcome has an immediate positive impact on families and communities.

However, as Mozer (2015) identifies, ‘to the limited extent that bicycles have been introduced into the structure of transportation in Africa, women generally have been excluded from access to the benefits’ . This is an area  of particular interest for me and an element which I will  be investigating in some detail in subsequent posts.


All facts attributed to Walk in her Shoes (2015) website unless otherwise specified. As accessed at

World Bank Policy Review Paper (1996) Sustainable Transport. Viewed on Wed 4th Nov, 2015 as accessed at