Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Hoping for Bicycles to transform life in rural Gambia

Joseph Idigba Awuru has a radiant smile like the sun just burst out from behind the clouds! 

I met him at the Tostan Training in Senegal in July this year. We chatted over meals and I was impressed by his wholehearted participation in the workshops.

Originally from Nigeria, with a Bachelor of Science in Public Health and Diploma in Development Studies, Joseph is an enthusiastic man with a passion for helping vulnerable and less privileged people in remote rural Gambia in West Africa.

He founded Hope Life International in 2004 and quickly identified a glaring problem; the need for a means of transport for students, teachers, health care workers and market traders who spend hours every day walking in the hot sun on dusty roads just to get to school or work.

On a phone interview from my office in the UK to Joseph in Gambia, he said: “Students wake up very early in the morning and can walk for two to four hours and arrive at school exhausted. It’s impossible to concentrate and their studies obviously suffer. Then they don’t get home until 6 or 7 o’clock at night, too tired to do their homework.”

The solution is simple and has just two wheels! Bicycles! Joseph realised that bicycles would transform life for villagers in all five provinces of Gambia.

Joseph said: “Bicycles would mean students could take much less time travelling and arrive at school fresh and ready to study. It’s the same with the health care workers who travel around to the rural communities and the traders who travel to market; they would save so much time and wasted energy if they could ride bicycles to work.” 

He has a plan! Through the Bike for Community Development project he aims to acquire 8000 bicycles over the next three years! So far he has only 100 bicycles so there is a long way to go. However his irresistible optimism and determination is sure to make the ambitious scheme a success. He just needs companies or charities to donate the bicycles.

“It would be a great blessing for us if a bicycle manufacturer could donate to this project. It would be an incredible relief to these people, especially the school children and women taking their produce to market. Having a bicycle would improve their quality of life so much.”

Joseph said he has a team of enthusiastic volunteers to help distribute the bicycles throughout the Gambian countryside and teach bike riding skills and a qualified mechanic who can train people in the repair and maintenance of the bicycles. All they need now is the bicycles and they are set to go! 

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