Sunday, 17 May 2009

Cycling for Development

While researching topics for my trip in Namibia I came across a very interesting project: the Bicycling Empowerment Network or BEN Namibia. The aim of this small NGO is simple and compelling: give disadvantaged Namibians a means of transport and a way of generating an income.

A bicycle's benefits

The benefits of a bicycle in a developing country are numerous. Compared to a person walking, a bicycle carries up to four times the weight, goes twice as fast and actually much further. With bicycles, health workers and home-based carers can see more clients and deliver more supplies. It's also by far the cheapest mode of transport apart from walking of course.

Affordable and reliable transport can significantly improve livelihoods and contribute to sustainable development. When the rural poor - and particularly women - gain access to health, education and information, they can access markets and improve their income, thus reducing their vulnerability.

Since 2005 BEN Namibia has already distributed more than 7,000 second hand bikes in Namibia. Most of the bikes come from Europe and North America. In 2009 BEN is looking forward to hand out its 10,000th bike.

New skills & tools for new lives

The Bicycle Empowerment Centre in Katutura, Windhoek's largest township, opened in March 2009. King’s Daughters, a local church project assisting former prostitutes, and BEN Namibia decided to team up for a joint venture. The bikes were donated by the Canadian NGO Bicycles for Humanity in Ottawa.

Six former prostitutes learned how to repair bikes and now run their own business.

Across most of Namibia there is no public emergency ambulance system, and people often die because they can not afford to pay for private transport.

BEN Namibia's bicycle ambulance project began when the NGO realized that health care workers and volunteers who had received bicycles were using the luggage racks to transport clients to hospitals and clinics.

Work on the first prototype, a basic stretcher towed behind a bicycle, began soon thereafter. For the past three years now bicycle ambulances have been used to transport people for conditions ranging from scorpion or snake bites to HIV/AIDS-related illnesses. There's no doubt that bicycle ambulances save lives in remote communities.

Who would have thought that so much could be done with two wheels.

Update: Here are the links to the German online article Fahrradverleih statt Prostitution and my feature which was broadcast on Deutsche Welle's Fokus Afrika.


Anonymous 27 May 2009 at 23:26  

your report on BEN is most fascinating!
Could you add the link to your feature on this project
which was broadcast by DW?

Anonymous 27 May 2009 at 23:33  

Nice new picture of yourself. l´as paga lou capeu?

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