Cycloville Field Report

News released on: 
Jan 18th, 2016

Representatives from MCEDO, Club Cycloville, Bikes Not Bombs and BEDP Trainees

Eastlands Bike Shop, a shop in the Cycloville network

Trainer Julius, and trainees Winston, Elma, Jackie and Sharon

Trainee Jackie while repairing headsets

Charlotte, Bikes Not Bombs' International Programs Director, spent three weeks visiting our partner Cycloville in Nairobi, Kenya.

A year a half ago we received an ambitious partnership proposal from Cycloville (Cycling Village) in Nairobi, Kenya, led by 24-year old Fred Odero, that immediately caught our attention. Cycloville wanted to implement the Bicycle Enterprise Development Program (BEDP), with a creative structure which leveraged the growing bike market to create opportunities for unemployed young people. The foundation of the program is a network of about 10 bicycle shops in Nairobi that reported a booming bike scene, but an unstable supply chain to sustain a hungry market. The network wanted to import containers of used bicycles and spare parts to feed the market demand, but they also wanted to use the containers to do something more.

Past partnerships with the Mathare Education and Community Development Organization (MCEDO) for fundraising bike rides always left Cycloville with the impression that fundraising wasn’t enough – they wanted to be able to create a sustainable impact. Young people in Mathare, the second largest slum in Nairobi, lack access to jobs and job training, and Cycloville wanted to use the BEDP program to fill that void. After receiving two containers in 2015, one from Bikes Not Bombs and one from Mikes Bikes Foundation, Cycloville has now begun implementing the BEDP program in Mathare. They built a workshop and are now training 5 young people in bike mechanics and shop management.

During my first week and half visiting Cycloville I have been incredibly inspired by everyone's work and commitment to a larger social change mission. I have visited most of the bike shops in their network and spoken with shop owners and about their hopes and plans for future growth in the industry. Almost all of the shop owners started as trainees of a road side mechanic, then created their own road side operation, before moving into a brick and mortar shop. Mentoring young people and encouraging them to start their own enterprises is very much a part of the culture of these bike shops. This culture is what will help propel the BEDP program to success – it takes a growing industry, using part of the profits from that growth to train young people, and then connects the newly trained mechanics to jobs at the growing shops.

Every day the trainees start with lessons from a trainer. Many of the trainers are shop owners in the Cycloville network, or other people interested in cycling. Right now the trainer is Julius who kept telling me, “I love this job. I love these students. These are the best students in the world.” His positivity and enthusiasm was contagious. On my second visit Julius had the trainees show me what they had learned about threaded and threadless headsets. With a little bit of encouragement, the trainees all completed the quiz much to the delight of their proud teacher.

In the afternoons the trainers leave, but the trainees keep the workshop open and run the shop. They do repairs that they’ve already learned, complete lessons left for them by the trainers, sell spare parts, and have started their own entrepreneurial venture renting out bikes to school kids for 10 to 50 cents a ride. Between the repairs and rentals, trainees are able to earn some income while in the program.

What is most striking about the trainees is that 4 out of 5 of them are women, a rarity in cycling around the world. When they finish the training they will be amongst some of the first female bike mechanics in Nairobi. When I asked the women what the reaction from the community and their families has been, they said that at the beginning people would see them holding tools and start yelling that this is men’s work. Or people would stand and stare at them. One of the trainees, Elma, said that at one point a man stood outside the workshop for 10 minutes just staring with his mouth open. Some of the trainees' families have been more supportive than others, but they said that both the community and their families are getting more accustomed to the idea. When I asked one of them, Sharon, how she felt about being one of the first female bike mechanics here she said simply, “I am proud.”

The first half of this trip has been jam packed, and the more I learn about Cycloville and the Bicycle Enterprise Development Program, the more impressed I am by its creative structure which sustains the training financially, and directly connect its future graduates to jobs. It is truly a village of cyclists coming together to make this program and partnership possible, and I think there is a great future ahead with the collaboration of Bikes Not Bombs and Cycloville.