In June 2014 I received an email from Liz Scroggins with the Rotary Club of Pemberton in British Columbia, Canada. Liz had been to Lesotho on two occasions to work on Rotary projects and fell in love with Malealea and its people. But she also got to understand a challenge that many Basotho face, especially those living in rural areas: the lack of transport alternatives. If you live in the mountains you have only two choices: you either cough up expensive taxi fares, or you walk. This is how the idea behind Project Mobility was born. While she was at Malealea Liz met Teboho Lenyora, who at that time was working at Malealea Lodge, and was responsible for the maintenance of rental bicycles as well as the guiding of tourists on bicycles in the area. Back in Canada, Liz shared her stories of Lesotho with friends Pat and Brenda Montani, founders of Bicycles for Humanity (B4H), who have shipped over 100,000 bicycles to countries in Africa, but never to Lesotho. Liz and the Montani’s joined forces to start collecting enough second-hand bicycles to fill a shipping container, and raise funds for the purchase of a used container and all related shipping costs. The Rotary Club of Pemberton took on the project by contributing some funds and applied for a Rotary District Grant.
Liz needed a partner in Lesotho that would assist Teboho with receiving the container for the first community bike shop at Malealea, and manage the logistics and paperwork involved. The Canadian individuals and organisations involved in getting the shipping container to Lesotho was the Rotary Club of Pemberton, with supporting donations from the Rotary Club of Whistler and Pender Harbour, Rotary District 5040, Pat and Brenda Montani from Bicycles 4 Humanity (B4H) and special thanks to Liz’s husband Mike Turcotte. I committed to the project as, living in Lesotho, I had seen first hand what difference a bicycle can make when given to those who need them the most. It was a pilot project in every sense of the word and there was no one who could give us advice or show us how to get started. The most important goal I had set myself for the project, was that it had to be sustainable and that the bikes would have to be usable for as long as possible. I knew of a very successful project in Botswana, which is run through the Mikes Bikes Foundation in California. As luck would have it I met up with the coordinators of this project about a year ago during a trip to Botswana and learned about their inspiring projects in Southern Africa, which involves the support of community bike shops in Botswana, Zimbabwe, Kenya and Zambia. Advise and support came from many emails and calls with Liz and Pat from British Columbia, as the B4H Program has proven very successful in Karamoji, Uganda among other countries.
An introduction to Project Mobility
Our mission To mobilise urban and rural communities and to provide affordable means of transport in Lesotho.
Our vision To develop Lesotho into a cycling friendly country, promote alternative transportation and to grow the cycle tourism sector.
Having a bicycle in rural Lesotho has many positive spin-off effects such as shorter traveling times to schools, faster access to medical services and hospitals, saving of expensive transport fees for taxis and busses, improvement of overall fitness and health and many more. In order to achieve sustainability with Project Mobility, it has to operate like a social enterprise and not like a traditional charity that simply hands out gifts for free.
How did it start? In order to get Project Mobility kicked off we needed a suitable location for the container. I approached Maseru Mall, a popular shopping and business location in our capital Maseru and asked whether we would be able to get any support for the project through the provision of a safe place for the container. The response was overwhelming and we got allocated a piece of rent-free land for the container right next to the main building of the mall. The mall has security and we are able to fix and store the bikes there. The condition of the bikes in the first container varied widely and we expect this to be the case with any container in future. Having a container that we can use as central warehouse, allows us to fix and repair and only take working bicycles to the recipients. The central location also means that our team of local mechanics is able to manage future donations conveniently. From Maseru we then move practical quantities of fully functioning bicycles to the different community bike shops.
How does it work?
First of all, we have learned that outright donations do NOT work. The bicycles are sold at affordable prices, which are less than their market value, but enough to ensure that;
1) The bicycle is respected and treated with care by its owner
2) The owner can also afford to maintain his/her new bike
3) The owner of the community bike shop is able to continue to operate the business and generate income by offer servicing, repairs etc to bicycle owners in the area.
The community bike shops are pivotal in Project Mobility, as if a bicycle breaks down and there are no spare parts and mechanical skills available in these rural areas, conventional modes of transport will prevail again. I have experienced the sad story of bicycle containers that Lesotho received in the past, where bikes were given away as outright donations and subsequently only used for weeks, sometimes even days by their new owners, before they were scrapped and never used again. If there is no value attached to a bicycle and no service point available, no bicycle or community bike shop will last.
The funds generated from selling adult bicycles create employment and pay a salary to the owner of the community bike shop as well as the mechanics and helpers. Parts of the funds are also necessary to finance the re-distribution of the bicycles from the central logistics point in Maseru, to the mountainous, rural communities in Lesotho. Lastly, a portion of the funds is allocated for the purchase of spare parts and safety equipment such as helmets, lights and gear. The community bike shops are located in places where employment opportunities are extremely limited and our first shop at Malealea has shown very promising potential thus far. We have been positively surprised by the interest in and demand for bicycles in the greater Malealea community. Only two weeks after its opening, more than 200 bicycles have been sold in Malealea alone. Through Teboho's Bike Shop, we have already started to supply bicycles to another community bike shop in Mafeteng, and will also be looking into extending into Mohales Hoek. When you come to Malealea now you will see many people on bicycles, kids riding for fun around the village, nurses commuting to work to the clinic, and teachers cycling to schools. We have seen that the new owners treat their new bicycle with respect and that they have an interest in the maintenance of their new mode of transport.
What are the next steps?
The project so far has allowed us to distribute bicycles to an impoverished community, where the affordable bicycles have made a difference. Teboho’s Bike Shop at Malealea is currently located in a communal centre and the venue is not ideal for a community bike shop, as it is also serves as a meeting place for the community. We are currently looking for a more suitable location, to rent or to buy. A community bike shop requires a simple building for storage of bicycles, tools and sales space. The project would be nothing without the people involved. I would like to commend the courage and commitment that Teboho has put in so far. He resigned his full-time job at Malealea Lodge with the risk of losing everything, but with the determination and dream in mind to turn this project into a success. I am confident that we have a unique combination of people, generous donors that share our vision and the right people with the right skills and mind-set on the ground in Lesotho. My adventure tourism company has been organising events and guided MTB tours in Lesotho for the past 4 years. We constantly scout new routes and train guides in different areas of Lesotho. The community bike shops are ideal hubs for the development of bike tourism in Lesotho. In the near future they will be able to offer mechanical support, local expertise on trails and routes, bike guides and rental bicycles. There is no doubt that as Project Mobility grows, we will see cycling grow and change lives in the #MountainBikeKingdom
If you would like to contribute to the project through donating time, bicycles or expertise please contact us on info(at)lesothosky.com
“Individually we are one drop. Together we are an ocean.”