If a single bicycle can make a significant difference for an entire village, especially when the nearest school or water supply may be miles away, imagine the difference two shipping containers of bikes can make.
That’s what’s driving Rob Barron’s efforts to refurbish bicycles between now and July in preparation for a trip to Nansana in Kampala, Uganda.
Barron is trying to fill two-20 ft. shipping containers with as many as he can to help children in the impoverished African nation.
His girlfriend, Jocelyn Samek, has already connected with some youth organizations working in refugee camps in Uganda, which has been ravaged by a deadly combination of AIDS, poverty and violence that Barron says has all but eliminated an entire generation of adults.
“We want to be able to do something that helps people there as soon as we arrive. Some of the stories we’ve seen and heard as we prepare for the trip have left both of us in tears. Our efforts are part of a movement in Uganda aimed at creating hope, peace, love and unity for children there. People we know who’ve been involved with these kinds of initiatives say you can’t really prepare because it’s impossible to comprehend until you get there.”
Barron, the owner of Re-Buy-Cycle Shop in Langford, has made a habit of giving back to the community since he first opened the business on Goldstream Avenue a little more than three years ago. In addition to refurbishing, selling and repairing bikes, the shop provides free bicycles for kids up to the size of 20 inch rims. Staff provide free lessons and free repairs for kids bikes as well.
“That’s a huge part of what we do, probably about 60 per cent of our time,” he explained. “A lot of our clients donate old bikes, which helps us with the cost of purchasing parts. What we make on regular repairs and sales is what allows us to stay in business. We started out donating bikes to the Cridge Centre, but they couldn’t keep up with the numbers we repaired, so we expanded that to help kids in our community with free bikes. I’ve had parents in tears when they get a free bike for their kids. The emotional response is pretty amazing.”
Barron is looking for bicycles, parts and cash donations to help with the staggering cost of getting the bicycles to Uganda. “We’re trying to raise about $25,000 because of the huge cost of shipping two containers that size and the taxes involved,” he noted. Return-It Recycling Centres in Victoria have jumped on board by collecting donations from bottles under The Uganda Project. Westmont Montessori School in Metchosin is assisting with the project as well through a number of initiatives still being determined.
“Students at the school are anxious to help out,” Barron said. “They’re pretty amazing kids, and I’m really looking forward to seeing what they come up with.” U-Bikes are also donating bikes no longer in use toward the project.
Another interesting element of the project involves having local First nations paint traditional art on the containers, which will be converted to serve as classrooms in Uganda. “We want to forge a cultural connection as well,” Barron explained. “We’ve donated bikes to the Songhees Native Friendship and Wellness Centre in the past, and would welcome their involvement.”
Considering he’s never had to deal with the bureaucracy involved in an initiative of this scope, Barron is well aware that it’s an ambitious project. “We have a lot to learn. I’ve never been out of Canada or attempted anything like this before. I know we have to raise a lot of money, but I believe the community will come through for a cause like this. I’d also appreciate appreciate any help we can get with information from people who’ve done similar initiatives regarding logistics and connections. We’ve also been in touch with the Uganda consulates in Vancouver and Ottawa to see if there’s any way we can get a break on the high cost of taxes.”
If you would like to donate bicycles, parts or cash or help out with useful information, contact Barron at firstname.lastname@example.org.