To the average Ottawa resident, a bicycle is a simple transport tool or used for recreation.
But for someone living in Namibia — a nation in southern Africa marred by poverty and HIV — a bike can change a life.
For the past three years, Ottawa residents and friends Seb Oran and Sandra Gattola have been connecting these two worlds, putting bikes from the National Capital Region to good use in a third world country.
Over the weekend, Bicycles for Humanity collected more than 400 bicycles in a drive that will help improve access to health care, education, food, water and employment.
Bicycles in garages or basements can make an incredible difference to those in need of transportation, said Oran, who cofounded the Ottawa chapter of B4H — today one of 20 across North America — with Gattola in 2007.
“Just a simple bicycle — something we use for recreation purposes here — is an empowerment tool there,” Oran said.
Barrhaven resident Ron Radbourne salvaged bikes that had been tossed with the neighbours’ trash. He fixed them up and donated them to the organization.
“It’s great someone can use them,” he said. “We’ve got so much in this country that it’s great we can help.”
The donated bicycles are shipped to Namibia, where the Bicycling Empowerment Network will distribute them.
While some of the bikes go to health-care workers to help them travel to meet patients, others to go to orphaned youth to help them attend school. The rest are fixed up and sold, with the profits going to House of Love, a community-based organization for orphaned and vulnerable children.
“It greatly increases their livelihood and productivity,” said Oran.
Last year, the women travelled to Namibia to see the result of their work.
“When you see how it improves one human’s life … I don’t think there’s anything more powerful than that,” Oran said.
“The most rewarding part is seeing the impact at the other end,” said Gattola, “but also meeting all the wonderful people that live right here in the city.”
“You really realize that nobody is too small to make a difference,” Oran said. “By doing something as simple as donating a bicycle, you can make a difference.”