Notes from the field: Hap Cameron’s blog

4 Aug

Hap and Mandy have been helping with the start up of a new Bicycle Empowerment Centre in Katima Mulilo, for which they also helped to fund and ship a container load of bicycles to Namibia, together with Bicycles for Humanity Melbourne. They’ve spent the last months cycling to Katima Mulilo, and then working with Catholic AIDS Action home based care volunteers who are currently in training  Read about their experiences on Hap’s blog. Hap is an amazing guy who is in Africa to finalise his goal: to work on every continent before the age of 30.

Hap sharing his mechanic skills with the Katima Mulilo trainees


A very goat choice!

19 Apr

A guest-post by Ann-Kathrin Hosenfeld & Benjamin Georg, who are currently visiting BEN Namibia projects for Benjamin’s post-grad research on bicycles and women’s empowerment.

Joree on his way to a photography assignment

The Kaoko Bicycle Shop is a Bicycle Empowerment Center in Opuwo that has been running for only nine months. It is a development project implemented by the Bicycling Empowerment Network Namibia to improve people’s livelihoods through providing access to affordable transport solutions: in this case bicycles.

But what happens with the bikes that are sold?

“You will find me in Opuwo, I am the guy with the reflective security vest!”

Joree, 29, has all it needs to be a successful entrepreneur. For four months now he is a proud mobile photographer. “I go to the villages, ne? In Opuwo, there are many photographer but nobody go to villages! My business is very good for the people.

With the sturdy refurbished mountainbike he bought from Kaoko Bicycle Shop he immediately became a well-known service provider in and around Opuwo.

We ask him how his business performs. With a smile behind his sunglasses he answers: “Well, it’s not my first bicycle! From the profits I made in the first three months, I could buy two more bikes for my younger brothers!” Joree mentions that those bicycles enable them to save time and energy on their way to school, also helping them to keep in touch with friends and first dates. The girls love bicycles, he says.

It all started with some smart advice given to him by his uncle Ndende, 38, in their homestead in Okorosave. “I was a bit lazy, I didn’t know what to do with my time but then Ndende said to me I should go and sell two goats to buy a camera and become a photographer.”

Joree prints his photos

Joree was able to make profits with that but he saw that not only in Opuwo there was a demand for the service he provided. In remote places like Okorosave, his homestead 20km from Opuwo in the Kaokoveld, clients were urging him to take pictures for them. He realized that with a bicycle he could easily reach many more clients than on foot or by taking occasional lifts by cars. “With a lift you never know when you arrive since there are few cars going outside Opuwo and you have to pay a lot for it. With a bike I can be at any place, at any time and I always know how to go back to Opuwo in the evening.

Sometimes he goes around the whole day from village to village and customer to customer. “I do reliable business and people can always reach me – that´s most important. The only problems sometimes are the cars – that´s why I wear the reflective vest. They don’t respect a cyclist.” (Sadly, we make the same observation while riding our tandem.)

Joree and Benjamin take in the endless horizons of the Kaokofeld

Since the cell phone network around Opuwo is working fine and most people own a mobile phone, people started asking for Joree´s services at family celebrations and at other occasions.

After I take the pictures I go to Opuwo to develop the pictures at a machine in the pharmacy. When I visit the village next time I sell one picture for ten dollars (US $1.40, 1 Euro). Everybody is happy with that.

Joree takes us with him to his village for a short visit at his uncle´s and brother´s place to show us how he does his business. We start in the morning with our tandem and are astonished about the high temperatures we face in late autumn in Kaoko.

Ya, you find that hot? For me is winter, I am very happy now. In summer I go around at very high temperatures since it´s my job. It works: You just need to drink a lot. You get used to it.


Often he goes off-road for a while to deliver some pictures, catching up with us in no time. The hilly territory around Opuwo makes it an even more challenging job – but Joree is very happy that he can travel around and meet people, and is obviously very fit.

The relatively low initial investment for a bicycle as a means of individual transport – 700 to 1,000 Namibian dollars (70-100 Euro) can act as a door opener into a whole new world: “Before, I earned very little money as a subsistence farmer. I’m very happy with my new situation.” His plans for the future? “Getting my own picture printer to work even more efficient and maybe one day have photographers working for and with me.

The overall outcome is already astonishing: Out of a small development project, in this case a totally independent SME (small to medium size enterprise, a key aspect of namibian business development politics) came into being – only with a little support from the family but most of all through the entrepreneurial chutzpah of Joree and his uncle Ndende. “The bicycle changed my life – now I found something useful for myself that pays off and I can give something back to my family. With the money I also bought back more goats then I invested before!

Song of the month

22 Feb

You have to love this rap video from Walfame, a bunch of talented, bike-loving young people from Nairobi.

More sack news for 2011

11 Jan

Happy new year everyone! For my first post of the year I’d like to reflect on the blog statistics that WordPress was kind enough to compile and send at the end of 2010.  The blog is still fairly new so there wasn’t a huge amount of data, but two statistics stand out:

“Your busiest day of the year was November 28th with 74 views. The most popular post that day was A Namibian girl and her bike.”

So the message is clear, people want to read about people and how bicycles impact on their lives. Point taken for 2011.

“Some visitors came searching, mostly for roman catholicism distribution map of world, namibia map, big houses in namibia, manufacturer of sacks in zambia, and windhoek city 2011.”

Given that Zambian sack manufacturing appears to be such a hot topic I’ll do my best to give you more of this in 2011 too.

Namibia’s bike shop of the month

1 Dec

Mechanics at the Ngoma BEC. You can donate to BEN Namibia this Christmas in honour of a friend or loved one and send them this Christmas card with a personal message. Click on the card to enlarge it.

On Saturday I visited the village of Ngoma, where we have been working with Catholic AIDS Action
(CAA) to implement Namibia’s 25th Bicycle Empowerment Centre (BEC). Their start-up capital is delivered (a shipping container with 306 bicycles, tools and spare parts from Bicycles for Humanity Montana) and a group of 5 CAA community outreach volunteers have been trained in bike mechanics and business skills.

The BEC opened in early November and has experienced huge demand from the local community, and even from people in the nearest city, Katima Mulilo, 70km away. The village is located on the Botswana border so there has even been some international trade. In just four weeks of trading they have sold over 100 bikes!

Income from the BEC will be used to sustain operations–they will need to pay costs of delivering new stock of bikes in the future, to buy more spare parts from a wholesaler in the capital, Windhoek, and to pay the wages of the five people who run it. A percentage of profits will also be allocated to funding local community development activities. Other BEC projects have used their profits to support everything from orphan feeding and schooling programmes to micro-enterprise development. Thirty bikes will also be given to volunteers to help them reach distant clients and orphans for support visits.

That’s the good news. The tough thing about this project is that it isn’t fully funded. My 2800 km round-trip visit last week (which included a costly gearbox failure) was funded from BEN Namibia’s dwindling financial reserves, and ideally we like to make monitoring and support visits to a project at least three times during the first 18 months. We usually also provide a shade structure and some modifications to each container to make it a more practical workspace, but unfortunately haven’t raised the funds for this yet either.

So if you think supporting sustainable community enterprises and mobility in rural Africa is something worthwhile, please consider a donation to BEN Namibia this Christmas.  You can even click on the card above and email it to a friend or loved-one to make the donation in their honour.

(Despite moaning about our funding shortfalls, we are incredibly grateful to Bicycles for Humanity Montana, Austin-Lehman Adventures, Paul Lehman and Montana Cycling and Ski for their support in getting the project this far…)

A Namibian girl and her bike

27 Nov

Nothing makes me happier when I’m on a road trip than seeing a woman or girl riding a bicycle. There’s an extra level of satisfaction when the bike has been purchased at one of our Bicycle Empowerment Centre (BEC) projects.

Isabella makes the 8km trip from the town of Divundu to her home.

While there are no cultural taboos in most of Namibia against women riding bikes, most cyclists are men. Men generally control household finances, and this makes it difficult for women to ever own a bicycle, even though they do the majority of domestic transportation work like carrying food, water and firewood. When a woman or girl overcomes these obstacles it is an accomplishment, and in a small but visible way she becomes an ambassador for a freer and fairer society.

Isabella Thipungu lives in her family’s village, 8km from from the town of Divundu in Namibia’s Kavango region. Because of the distance she used to live in the school hostel in Divundu, and only saw her family on weekends. Since she bought her bike, she has moved back to her family home and commutes every day in a fraction of the time it would take to walk. Isabella’s bike came from the Makveto Bicycle Shop, a BEC near her home on the outskirts of Divundu. Before Makveto started, Isabella’s nearest bike shop was 250km away.

The poster for the Makveto bike race

The shop is organising a race in December, and I’m hoping the wind is at Isabella’s back.

(Makveto is supported by Mike’s Bikes, a Californian bicycle retailer, who blog about the project here.)

The kindness of strangers

15 Nov

I have never met Markus Stitz, but this solo adventurer has been good enough to seek out BEN Namibia as the beneficiary of his upcoming fundraising bike ride from Scotland to Germany, in the middle of winter. Having been trapped by floods and storms for a few days in a bothy in the Scottish highlands, and having spent a winter in northern Germany, I can appreciate the challenge that Markus has set himself. Thanks Markus, and safe trails!


By markusstitz

BEN Namibia Image 

Opuwo Simpson – Image courtesy of BEN Namibia

I have always cycled for the love of cycling, and will continue to do so. But cycling from Scotland to Germany in winter conditions surely is not one of those things you do every day. I have beaten my personal record this year by cycling 300km in one day. I have cycled more than 4500km on New Zealand’s South Island in less than two months, and managed to survive some fierce storms in Scotland while being on the bike. But this trip is a novelty, and I would like to do my little bit to make a difference.

While looking for a charity to support, I came across Bicycle Empowerment Network Namibia (BEN Namibia), and after a few emails I had found the right organisation to support. It was in Hamburg (Germany) that the idea for BEN Namibia started, when Michael Linke saw an abandoned bicycle chained to a lamp post, and started thinking about the possibilities of shipping bikes like this to developing countries.

The charity’s main focus in Namibia is a Bicycle Empowerment Centre program, a network of independent, community based bike shops that are supported by local grass roots organisations. BEN Namibia provides a shipping container, an initial stock of bicycles and spare parts, tools and training in mechanics and business skills to groups of local people at each shop. They run it as a business, paying wages, resupplying bicycles and spare parts and supporting other community projects from their own income.

25 of these shops are established, and they aim to set up another 5 in Namibia in 2011. The established shops require very little support, and over the next two years the charity aims to make the network completely independent of BEN Namibia.

Your support, however large or small, would mean a lot, as funding new projects is a continual challenge. This is my first ever charity ride, but the idea of combing my passionate love for cycling with supporting a great cause will surely warm up my heart in the cold days to come, and I would appreciate any donation. All your donations go straight to BEN Namibia as I am funding the trip on my own. I have chosen Paypal as it is the most secure and easy way of collecting donations, but feel free to get in touch should you require any more information.

Visit Markus’s blog, Fearless and Unique

Two wheels of fortune

8 Nov

I feel a bit lazy again re-posting someone else’s writing about our work, but what am I to do when Betty Londergan puts together such a nice entry at her What Gives 365 blog? Plus it’s November and Windhoek is becoming lethargically hot, I can’t be blamed for entering summer hibernation. Apart from this entry, What Gives 365 is worth checking out for the vast array of projects it showcases, and the author’s ambition of donating $100 to different causes every day for an entire year. Here’s Betty’s post:

Two wheels of fortune for Africa.

How far can a bike go to transform an underdeveloped community? Well, as it turns out, pretty darn far when it’s in the hands of a true bike believer like Michael Linke.

The daily commute goes faster on wheels.

In 2005, Aussie Linke and his wife Clarisse started the Bicycling Empowerment Network to get the population of Namibia on the road to positive change. Bikes can carry five times more weight than a single person and go five times as far, five times as fast as walking – which means that with a bike, rural poor people can be about ten times more productive. They can ride to school, get access to health care, transport goods, or zip back and forth to work more quickly and easily.

BEN bike shops are a brisk business. (Recognize the container?)

But Linke quickly discovered that even the process of getting bikes into the hands of people created a virtuous cycle of progress. When BEN started its bicycle distribution program of second hand bikes that had been donated from other countries through international partner Bicycles for Humanity, Linke realized that every container of bikes could literally become a bicycle shop. And he started pedaling that idea far and wide.

I can fix that flat!

For about $25,000, communities in Canada, Australia and America will send a container filled with hundreds of donated bikes, tools, spare parts, and even soccer balls and school supplies to Namibia – and the container itself can then be transformed into a bike shop that brings employment and economic opportunity to small towns in the countryside. BEN technicians train village women and men to maintain, sell, and repair the bikes, creating Bicycle Empowerment Centres. Since 2005, 25 BECs have opened in rural towns in Namibia and one in Zambia, employing 100 men and women and providing 17,477 bikes to those who want to put mettle to the pedal.

Bike ambulances — not cushy, but they get you there!

But bikes are more than an economic stimulus package, they’re also a health care plan. By outfitting bicycles with steel frames and stretchers, BEN Namibia has created 70 bicycle ambulances for rural communities where emergency transportation does not exist. Bikes are also used by hundreds of Namibian home health care workers, 90% of them women, who have been given bikes that make it easier to deliver supplies, medication and critical care to HIV/AIDS patients– at the lowest operating cost of any transportation mode.

Nkurenkuru kindergarten is supported by bike shop revenues.

And strictly for sport, Team BENN fields a team of expert cyclists to race across the country, while BEN’s Spin for Life program uses the athletes in AIDS awareness events in rural towns –  where prize bikes are awarded among those who get tested, prevention strategies and condoms are distributed, and health issues are discussed.

On the road in Namibia.

In a country that only achieved its independence from South Africa in 1990 and where most of the 2.1 million people live in rural poverty, bikes can steer an entire nation towards a better future. And if Bicycle Empowerment Network has anything to do with it, they’ll make sure what goes around, comes around for the people of Namibia. To join me in donating to BEN, a Women, Tools & Technology Ashoka Changemaker , click here!

Tuyoleni Bicycle Project Success Stories 2010

2 Nov

I enjoyed this report on one of our projects from Catholic AIDS Action’s North-West Namibia Region Manager, Efraim Iipinge, and hope you do too.

Tuyoleni Bicycle Project is an income generating initiative that was established in 2008 by members from Okalongo Home Based Care (HBC) Group. The project came to existence with the help of Amber Lung a Peace Corps Volunteer who was based at Catholic AIDS Action (CAA) Oshikuku office. She laid all the ground work including finding the source of bicycles through BEN Namibia and other sources for transportation, group mobilization to select the project site and members as well as coordinating the training for the project members. [The project implementation costs were raised by Rotary Bramhall and Woodford, and a container of second hand bicycles was shipped by Re-Cycle, both from the UK].

The project is run by five female home based care volunteers and two male orphans who were registered with CAA Okalongo HBC group. All members are still working and committed to the project under the leadership of Ms. Rauha Heita as the Project Manager. This was demonstrated through going to work every day and performing their duties in an orderly manner. The five HBC volunteers remain active in providing care and support to clients and OVC and participate actively in the CAA activities.

Since it was officially opened the project had sold many second hand bicycles to the Okalongo community and repaired numerous bicycles daily at their site. In order to fulfill their social responsibility, Tuyoleni Bicycle Project had assisted many clients and children who were living under difficult circumstances among the community consisting of 13 villages. These were identified through community general observation, home visitation and consultation with community leaders. The in support of community work and in particular the provision of HBC, Tuyoleni had given 28 second hand bicycles to community health workers serving under different organizations. These donations had contributed to shortening the walking time to and from clients during home visits. It also created an alternative transport means to the volunteer when carrying out their households activities. In addition, the project had donated 8 bicycles to community members (4 needy widows and 4 other adults). One of the beneficiaries was Ms. Rauna Fikeipo from Epyaliwa village who expressed her thankfulness to Tuyoleni Project as follows:

Rauna Fikeipo received a bicycle from Tuyoleni Bicycle Project that helps her spend more time caring for the four children she supports.

  • “I am Rauna Fikeipo, 51 years old and a widow without any biological child. My husband died in 2003 after he fell sick at Walvis Bay but died later at Oshikuku Hospital. He was not permanently employed and therefore did not leave much for myself and the four children I have taken in. His death devastated me and affected my health. I was stressed to the extent that I got very ill. I was almost bed-ridden but recovered. Due to the loneliness and stress I opted to join the Parish Choir group at Okalongo ELCIN parish and found comfort every time I was singing. Currently I am in three choir groups that meet every Wednesday, Friday and Saturdays. My house is an hour walk from the parish and I need to cover that distance twice per day to care for myself. My path, pass by the Bicycle Project and many times I hurriedly go without greeting. One day I was called aside by our parish pastor and was shown a bicycle. He told me it was donated to me by Tuyoleni Bicycle Project. I could not believe it and cried due to happiness. I had a lot of questions but could not utter a word. Until this day, I do not know how to thank these project members. God is the only one who would thank them through His blessing. Today I am able to ride and reach the town within reasonable time. I manage to do my household work before I come to the group choirs and reach home before sun set to prepare dinner for the children and supervise them while carrying out their routine tasks. I could not have done so without my bicycle. Thank you to Tuyoleni Bicycle Project members. I pray that God pour His blessings on each and every individual member and to all those who have contributed to the establishment and running of the project”.

Two bicycles were donated to needy children who are walking long distances to schools. Both were identified through HBC group discussions and community observation. I talked to Linus Haufiku who is attending Grade 11 at Tomas Tutaleni Secondary school at Okalongo.

Linus Haufiku received a bicycle from Tuyoleni to help him travel to school.

  • “I am living with my grandmother at Olupandu village. Life was reasonably ok from Grade 1 – 10 until I completed my Grade 10 at Oshatotwa Combined School last year. However this year I was admitted here at Tomas Tutaleni Secondary School in Grade 11 as a day learner. There is no hostel facility and the school is far from our house. I woke up at 4:00 am every working day to arrive at school in time and could only reach home after sunset. I did not have enough time to study. When I reached home I was tired and when I wake up, it was already time to wash and take the trip to school. There is no public transport from our village to town neither could my parents and grandmother have money to afford it. My mother and father are living at Odila in southern Angola. There is no school there and I don’t want to live there. At first they were saying they will look for a place to stay in town, but later they gave up. My grandmother is taking care of many children and does not have enough resources to manage. I used to reach school even before the teachers every day and worked hard to pass my subjects. One day Ms. Rauha Heita and some Tuyoleni Project members came to our school with a bicycle. They went to the principal who called me from our class. I was struck by the news that the project had donated me a bicycle. I could not believe it and could not hide my joy. This gift had made life easy for me. I am no more waking up too early. I arrive early enough at school and at home after school and am able to help my grandmother with household activities. I find time to read during the evenings and spend time with other children. I am happy for Tuyoleni Project and will study very hard to show my appreciation. I am aiming to score 27 points at the end of grade 11 and even higher in grade 12. I want to become an officer in the tourism sector or become a teacher to contribute to the education of future children”.

Apart from donating bicycles to the community members and helping with mobility, Tuyoleni Project is helping individuals with other needs. Some people were helped to service their bicycles free of charge while others enjoyed free repairs of their bikes. Some needy clients benefited from goods purchased to relieve pressing needs. Among these was Teresia Naambo Mukanda, who was referred to Okalongo HBC group by the local Health Center in 2008 when she was very ill.

Teresia Mukanda has been supported through illness by the Tuyoleni Bicycle Project.

  • “I am living with my brother and his wife however much of the time I am alone in the house. I have given birth to 2 children but all have died. I am thankful to CAA particularly to these volunteers. I was sick in 2008 and became so thin. I could not walk or help myself. These people came and helped me a lot. They brought me cooked and raw food, they fetched water and wood for me until I gradually recovered. Even this hut of mine, was built with their assistance. I was given a mattress and bedding, clothing and even pay for the builders. One day I was called by pastor Nangongo at Okalongo parish. I went there and he handed to me the kitchen utensils, soap, basin and maize meal saying that all were donated to me by Tuyoleni Project. I was so thankful to them and did not have words to express my appreciation. On my way from the parish, I went to the project and thanked the members for what they have done to me. I am surviving because of these good Samaritans among our community. Now I am up and running. I cook my own food and weave my baskets. I have a lot and people should come and buy. Whoever brought the Home Based Care service to Okalongo , I pray that God bless him and the people serving in the programme” .

A bike shop that tackles HIV with micro-grants

19 Oct

When South Africa granted Namibia its independence in 1990, they hung onto one town mid-way up the coast for a few extra years. Walvis Bay had been considered of strategic importance by Europeans for centuries. Today it serves as Namibia’s only port, and an important trading post for neighbouring African countries. It is home to Namibia’s fishing industry, and also attracts tourists with its flamingo-filled lagoon and the dunes of the Namib desert.

Epafras and Wilhelmene are mechanics at Welwitschia Bicycle Shop in Walvis Bay

All this activity means a lot of temporary visitors, and all of the casual and seasonal work means a lot of people are unemployed a lot of the time. Cashed up sailors who often don’t speak English and come from countries with minimal HIV education, truck drivers and tourists mingling with disadvantaged locals are a disastrous combination for controlling the spread of HIV.  There is an estimated 21 percent prevalence in the town, well above the national average.

When you combine HIV and poverty, things can get really grim. AIDS doesn’t affect wealthy people nearly as dramatically as poor people. Anti-retroviral medication means increasingly long and productive lives for people living with the virus, provided they can afford good nutrition, and provided they adhere to the treatment.  If you’re poor in an urban setting, you can’t afford good nutrition, and you don’t always have the taxi money to go to the hospital to collect your anti-retroviral medication on time.

The Walvis Bay HIV/AIDS Support group exists to provide mutual support for people who have tested positive. It focuses on treatment adherence for those on medication, and regular health monitoring for those who are not yet in need of ARVs. It is also a platform for discussion of ideas about how to overcome the challenges of life with HIV that people living in Walvis Bay’s townships face.

The support group began as an initiative of the Walvis Bay Multi-purpose Centre, and BEN Namibia began talking with the centre about a Bicycle Empowerment Centre (BEC) project to benefit support group members a few years ago. The project began when Bicycles for Humanity Vancouver shipped a container of bicycles to Walvis Bay, and Pact Namibia agreed to fund the implementation costs, and is now known as the Welwitschia Bicycle Shop.

At one of the first meetings we had with the support group, the group decided that profits from the shop should be used to support other members with small enterprise funding. Recently we met with the first beneficiaries. All had existing small businesses, but with the common theme of never having enough capital to get beyond a hand-to-mouth existence.  The approach the group took was to buy stock and materials for four small enterprises: two small neighbourhood tuck-shops, a traditional jewelery-maker, and a kapana (cooked meat) retailer.

Ester Ndenju is a member of the Walvis Bay HIV/AIDS Support group. The group runs a Bicycle Empowerment Centre, profits from which were used to grant Ester a stock of various household necessities for her modest tuck-shop. This small capital injection has meant a great deal to Ester, whose customers are no longer frustrated by her empty shelves, and who is better able to support her family from the increased profits.

While the goods were only distributed a few months ago and it’s still early days in terms of these becoming sustainable businesses, the short term results are impressive.  Ester, who runs one of the tuck-shops, says she was constantly out of stock of many items because she didn’t used to have enough cash to buy stock in advance. Now she organises her stock so that when a buffer supply runs out, she replaces the buffer, meaning she is never out of stock and her customers don’t go elsewhere.

Rebekka, who sells kapana, received pots and paper napkins. The pots are much larger than her old ones and mean that she can cook and store more stock in a single day, and the paper napkins are more appealing to customers than the old reusable ones she had been using. Her earnings have increased considerably, meaning she is better able to support her five children.

We’ll be sharing the experinences in Walvis Bay with our other projects around the country, all of which use their profits to support community development in different ways.  As with every project we work on, the Walvis Bay BEC has shown us yet again the value of providing skills, resources and opportunities to disadvantaged Namibians, and entrusting them to make decisions that will benefit their communities, based on their own experience of living in them.