Report from the Field: EcoBici at CESTA

News released on: 
Aug 3rd, 2015

The EcoBici crew with Charlotte.EcoBici student AbnerEcoBici students true wheelsA CESTA customer with his bike.Angel Escobar with his toolsCharlotte Fagan, Bikes Not Bombs' International Programs Coordinator, spent three weeks in Latin America to visit our International Partners CESTA and Bici-Tec.

I’ve just left El Salvador after a whirlwind 6 days with Bikes Not Bombs partner CESTA (Centro El Salvadoreno de la Tecnologia Apropriada). In the short time I spent with CESTA I traversed El Salvador from North to South, East to West, seeing CESTA’s expansive work around climate change awareness, community resilience and bike advocacy. CESTA and Bikes Not Bombs share a long history, dating back to when our organizations founders first met in Nicaragua in the 1980s. Over the past 30 years, we have maintained a strong relationship of mutual respect and solidarity.

As with all of Bikes Not Bombs partnerships – it begins with the bike. Bikes Not Bombs ships containers of used bikes to CESTA, which they then use to train students in the EcoBici school, sell in their shop, and distribute to other bike sellers in the country. The EcoBici program teaches young people bike mechanics over a 3-month period at no cost to participants. After they graduate from the program they can work fixing bikes at the CESTA shop, connecting graduates to steady employment. Depending on the year, bike sales make up 10-25% of CESTA’s overall income, providing them with critical funds to support their environmental justice work.

The EcoBici program has traditionally drawn upon young people from the San Salvador area, but in the last year CESTA has expanded to other parts of the country as well. CESTA partners with municipalities from other areas bringing participants in to live at CESTA for 3 months, and then connecting graduates with a supply chain to help them establish bike shops in their hometowns. (Check out David Branigan’s video on the EcoBici program to hear participants describe it in their own words.)

Another important aspect of CESTA’s work with bikes is that they are the main distributor of used bikes in the country. CESTA is continually expanding their network of bike shops through mentoring EcoBici graduates opening shops, helping people with physical disabilities access bikes to sell in local markets, and connecting community climate change resiliency programs to bikes as a form of green transportation.

I had the chance to visit 2 of the shops that CESTA distributes to, and I was struck by how well CESTA understands the micro-geographies of the bike market in El Salvador. Jorge, in charge of bike sales at CESTA, described to me where people prefer classic 3 speeds, where they prefer rigid mountain bikes, where they prefer mountain bikes with suspension, where kids bikes are popular, etc. For such a small country the bike markets vary widely!

Angel Escobar, a former EcoBici student and instructor, runs one of the shops that I visited. He has a small shop a couple hours outside San Salvador, and was bursting with pride showing me his shop and talking about his work. He said “I love my job. I love feeling like I’m helping people, and I love having a shop to call my own.” He then asked me if I loved my job, to which I replied yes, he said “It’s a wonderful thing isn’t it?” It was absolutely inspiring talking to him about his shop, and how his relationship with CESTA has gone from student, to instructor, to now a peer shop.

In addition to training people, selling and distributing bikes, earlier this year CESTA launched a bike advocacy campaign called ‘Sin Bicicleta, No Hay Planeta’Without Bikes, There is no Planet. Together with other bike groups in San Salvador they have established an advocacy network advocating for greater respect for cyclists, bike infrastructure, and together hold events to put pressure on politicians to act on their promises. They also organize a weekly Friday afternoon ride gathering CESTA staff and neighbors to take to the streets. The neighbor who makes lunches across the street from CESTA said that it’s her favorite thing that she does every week.

And this is only a portion of CESTA’s work that I had the opportunity to see while I was there! Next post I’ll write about the inspiring environmental justice work that CESTA is doing in communities on the frontlines of experiencing the effects of climate change.