Local Rotarian rides for African bikes 

Bicycles-For-Humanity changes lives in rural Africa

By Alison Taylor

When the wide-open road stretches endlessly and the wind feels like it’s fighting back with every pedal push forward, there’s a lot of time to think.

The mind wanders to thoughts of family and friends as one leg numbly follows the other. It wonders if there’s rain on the horizon or a thunderstorm rolling in and if there’s enough water to last until the next pit stop.

It takes a long time to ride a bike 4,500 kilometres from Squamish to Ottawa, so there is time to think about almost everything.

“I think about the people in Africa a lot,” writes Whistler Rotarian Pat Montani via e-mail as he tackles his last leg through the mountains early this week before the wide-open plains of the Prairies. “I think about how lucky we are to have been born in Canada and how much we have been given. It’s more than thinking, it’s a feeling that stays with you.”

Montani’s journey east is all about the simple, profound power of an old bike and the difference it can make between life and death in rural Africa.

He began his journey on May 13 and his 33-day trip includes stops along the way to promote the grassroots organization Bicycles-For-Humanity. The organization has been sending unwanted Canadian bikes to Africa since September 2005, where they are changing people’s lives by making access to healthcare, particularly in the fight against the AIDS epidemic, so much easier.

“It’s a simple bicycle, everyone understands what it is, yet next to the new drugs, a bicycle is the best tool for fighting AIDS and poverty in Africa,” said Montani.

As he battles the Canadian elements each day, averaging up to 22 kilometres per hour through wind and rain and sometimes some snow, Montani knows first hand the difference a bike can make.

Roughly two per cent of Africans living with HIV have access to the necessary antiretroviral treatment to fight the disease. That leaves 25 million people still in need, he said.

“The AIDS action groups springing up everywhere are the people taking responsibility for their lives and a better life,” he said. “With this energy and emotion and sheer will, if we do not help them when they need it most, well, we are letting them down and we have the resources to do it.”

Bicycles-For-Humanity sent four containers of bicycles to Namibia last year. Each container had roughly 400 bikes, with spare parts and tools. The container, once delivered, becomes the village bicycle workshop where the bikes can be maintained. They are called Bicycle Empowerment Centres (BEC) which are community organized and managed bike distribution hubs.

The goal for 2007 is to continue to support Namibia and become active in a new AIDS initiative in Uganda.

Containers from Vancouver, Comox, Vernon, Thunder Bay, Cambridge, Brampton and Ottawa will be sent to Africa this year.

Montani is looking in to organizing a container for Whistler too. The collection will most likely take place in the fall.

In the meantime he is taking each day on the road as it comes, focusing on his daily goals rather than the daunting task of finishing the journey. He has learned to be patient. It takes a long time to cross the country.

“You have a lot of time to think and what is important in your life comes to the surface and you tend to focus on it and work on it,” said Montani. “You learn that people are basically good… and it reaffirms there is good everywhere.”

For more information on the small organization that is starting to make a big difference in some African lives, go to www.bicycles-for-humanity.org.

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