Bicycles: on the humanitarian track

A fascinating journey from Dubai to the remote village of Abim, in Uganda, is the focus of a new film revealing one important way of turning the wheels of opportunity in Africa

New documentary The Yellow Bike is a heart-warming movie centred on the extraordinary journey of one ordinary bicycle. It is both a tale of giving and of hope. The protagonist, a bike that was donated to charity by a little girl in Dubai, leaves the Emirates on a cargo ship. It then crosses rough seas to Tanzania before being packed onto train and lorry transports to reach the Ugandan capital Kampala and, from there, the remote village of Abim.

The project, which was produced by Dr Ahmed Samerai, founder of Sahara Communications seeks to demonstrate the huge impact bikes can have on impoverished and disadvantaged communities in countries like Uganda. As part of the film, the Ahmed Samerai and Ben Stiller Foundation donated 1,500 bicycles to Uganda. “I want to inspire people to give and discover the happiness you get from giving, it is amazing,” comments Samerai.

The simple yet powerful message of the film is that a small gift can make a big difference. The bicycle is one of a number of useful tools helping move the underdeveloped economies of rural Africa into a more productive and sustainable ones. It can make it easier for children to attend school; farmers to transport their products to markets; and doctors to visit remote villages more often. Alleviating people’s need to walk for hours across tough terrain carrying whatever they can, bicycles oil the wheels of opportunity.

The simple concept of recycling old bikes from comparatively rich countries and giving them to people in the developing world is gaining traction. Bikes for the World, Bicycles for Humanity and World Bicycle Relief are three of a number of bicycle donation charities operating globally.

“A bicycle is an industrial revolution in an individual’s life,” comments World Bicycle Relief. The charity cites many instances of tangible change engendered by the bike: Student attendance at school increases by up to 28 per cent; grades increase by up to 59 per cent; healthcare workers reach more patients more often; and entrepreneurs travel four times further carrying five times more goods, increasing profits by up to 50 per cent.

Significantly, the work of these dynamic organisations is part of a wider gear change in the traditional concept of philanthropy. Rather than a simple one-way donation of hardware, Bicycles for Humanity, a global grassroots movement also raises funds for its ‘Bicycle Empowerment Model’. This simple yet powerful concept creates many jobs servicing and supporting the bicycles on the ground, helping to create micro-economies around mobility.

Good transport is a precursor to development in countries across the globe and although that necessary revolution can seem like an uphill struggle for communities in poorer parts of the world, small-scale changes can still have a fundamental impact.