Thinking outside the Bubble 

Whistler locals reaching out beyond the valley to help change the world

click to flip through (6) A centre was built in Karmoja, Uganda to manage the program. Pat Montani with the local team in Uganda.
  • A centre was built in Karmoja, Uganda to manage the program. Pat Montani with the local team in Uganda.
 

Hardly a day goes by without someone making a casual reference to Whistler's status as a "bubble." Being around awe-inspiring beauty with a full palette of distracting activities means that sometimes we forget that much of the world is not so lucky, it's easy to just sit back and relax and leave the worrying to someone else.

Yet for all the criticism of Whistler's sheltered lifestyle, there are just as many examples of residents looking out from Whistler to the rest of the world, making a difference and putting the stereotype to shame.

Many would argue there is something unique about people in this valley. For a town of just over 10,000 residents, there are an unusual number of locals who are doing big things that stretch well beyond the municipal boundaries.

Although it may sound cliché, these people are truly doing their part to make the world a better place.

The stories that follow are four such examples of local Whistlerites that have gone beyond anyone's expectations of what it means to give back. Their efforts to enhance our global community are succeeding, inspiring others to follow in their footsteps and spearheading movements that are literally changing the world.

Cycles for life

If you met Pat Montani walking on the street, it's unlikely the first thing to cross your mind would be a bicycle.

The large-framed 60-something looks more like a rugby player than a lean cyclist. But his stature should not overshadow his love of cycling. Both he and his wife, Brenda, have found a passion that keeps their aging bodies feeling young and which has taken them on adventures around the world.

Ten years ago on a trip to Mexico they had the idea to bring some extra bikes with them to help out the community they were visiting. The local newspaper in Kelowna, where the Montanis had a home at the time, heard about what they had done, and asked Montani if he had any plans to do the same thing the following year. Montani began thinking about it, did some research, and eventually found out about healthcare workers in rural Namibia who also needed support. They could not travel around the villages fast enough on foot — there was simply not enough time in the day to satisfy the needs of these poverty-stricken communities. That gave Montani the idea to send a shipping container full of bikes to increase their efficiency.

"We had no idea how many bikes would come in that first time, but we got around 2,000 in the first collection," Montani says, as he tells the story of his new calling. "There are now 50 worldwide chapters of Bicycles For Humanity (B4H)."

Montani's passion has not gone unnoticed. In 2011 actor Ben Stiller used his foundation to assist B4H to transport containers overland from African ports to their destinations — Montani even joined Stiller at a fundraiser in New York that year.

The principle is simple, as described in the organization's info flyer: "Bicycles for Humanity is about empowerment, it is about teams in the developing world and the developed world coming together to make a difference."

The strategy is to get as many old bikes as possible — the ones sitting in the garage or garden shed, collecting dust and taking up space. Every community independently organizes a drive to collect as many bikes as possible to fill a shipping container, and that container is sent to a poor community in need. Since 2005, over 60,000 bikes have been sent to Angola, Namibia, Uganda and South Africa. Each year the movement grows. Last year 15,000 bikes were shipped. This year the target is 30,000. With more and more people signing up for the cause, there is no end in sight.

According to Montani, what makes Bicycles for Humanity so successful is its bottom-up nature. "We are a grassroots movement. Everyone is a leader, and each chapter is free to manage the program how they feel best. Most NGO's or nonprofits are very structured, they have a board, management, and everyone reports to one leader. It is very difficult for others to do much when volunteering other than to follow orders."

In speaking, Montani continually refers to the project as a "movement," as opposed to a group or an organization. And his definition hits the nail on the head. There are chapters in North America, Europe, Australia, and Asia. Each chapter receives support from the Montanis, but is individually responsible for collecting the bikes and funding the approximately $10,000 cost of shipping them to Africa.

The $10,000 is certainly a hefty price tag. But given how many containers have been shipped, many are up to the challenge. Each chapter has its own unique fundraising efforts as well.

Here in Whistler, Greg Newton has taken up the helm from the Montanis to organize a fundraising ride to make Whistler's shipment this year a reality (go to www.b4h-whistler.org/ for full details. Register through the DONATE button).

Newton has a number of sponsors for the June 22 event that have helped out by donating prizes, food, advertising, and logistical support to attract a larger pool of riders.

This year the ride will start at Brandywine Falls at 9 a.m. With this no-pressure format, riders will head as far as Pemberton Meadows before turning around and finishing back at the starting point for a celebratory barbecue and wrap around 3 p.m.

The ride will focus on fun for everyone involved, says Newton, emphasizing that the ride is not a race.

"We wanted to keep it under $50, and we wanted to give people a couple options. By starting at Brandywine, people can ride to Whistler and back, which is about 50km. Or they can ride all the way to the meadows and back, which is close to that 'Century Ride' mark of 160km."

Given Whistlerite's propensity for outdoor activities (as well as any excuse to party) this ride provides a social way to ride without the fanfare (and cost) of a big event such as the GranFondo.

The planning is going smoothly, says Newton, adding that he was just the organizer, and it takes the support of the community for any of these events to happen.

"It really amazes me how generous people really are," he says. "The sponsors must get asked every day to sponsor this, or help out with that, but it's very rarely that I get turned down when I'm asking for something. And you know, business isn't the best right now, but people are generally willing to donate to the cause."

Indeed, events like these take the support of the entire community, not just a handful of organizers.

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