Pedal Forward and Bicycle Distribution in Tanzania

CGIUMatt Wilkins founded Pedal Forward and is currently a grad student at GW.
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After winning the 2012 Clinton Global Initiative University Commitment Challenge, I made a commitment to donate 24 bicycles to impoverished areas of the world. When my friend Marisa Ranieri (B.A. ESIA ‘12) told me she was moving to Muyenzi, Tanzania to teach English in a secondary school for a year, I had my target location. With the help of SEAS, I was able to exceed my goal and donate 35 bicycles through The Tumaini Fund, a charity that sponsors AIDS-affected orphans in the region. The bicycles address the basic transportation needs of isolated communities around the world by allowing easier access to water, education, and health care. After months of fundraising and working out logistics, I hopped on a plane ready to distribute the bicycles I had donated.

P1010808I flew into Kigali, Rwanda, a city filled with African culture with and Western comforts. After 7 hours of riding in a crowded bus, sharing a 5 seat car with 9 passengers and their bags, and sitting on the back of a motorcycle through the dirt roads of Tanzania, I had arrived in Muyenzi, a village of 200 people situated in the Northwest region of Tanzania. Transportation around the village consists of either walking (most students at the Muyenzi Secondary School do 16 km of this every day), riding a bicycle if you are lucky enough to own one, or if you have some money to spare, catching a ride from the one person in Muyenzi who owns a motorcycle. It is unfathomable but true that the closest wall outlet to charge your phone from Muyenzi is 50 km away, and that the trek will take an hour and a half on the back of a motorcycle.

IMG_1437I traveled via motorcycle to Kibogora and Ndomba Secondary Schools, where I distributed the 35 bicycles I had donated. The students were selected based on the following criteria: distance walked to and from school daily, academic merit, and classroom behavior (based on feedback from headmaster), and entrepreneurial drive (e.g. using bicycle to transport crops for sale at local market). It is hard to comprehend the importance of a bicycle to a student in these villages, but to put it in perspective the annual income for a person in Muyenzi is $95. I had given these students something that would cost over a full years year’s work.

While in Muyenzi, I also had the opportunity to teach mathematics and science at Muyenzi Secondary School. When I told the students I had studied engineering, one student raised his hand and asked me if I knew about physics. After I responded yes, the student pulled out a physics workbook he must have had donated to him (physics is not taught at Muyenzi Secondary) and asked if I could explain a simple Ohm’s Law question to him. Since the students understood chemistry, I explained to him what voltage and current were in terms of electrons and explained how to draw and solve the simple circuit. The student now fully understood Ohm’s Law and could solve a simple circuit, yet had never seen electricity before.

I am inspired to continue to improve the lives of those in need. I had such a rewarding experience distributing bicycles to Kibogora and Ndomba, and am humbled by the level of poverty I saw, yet encouraged by the attitudes and efforts of these young students.