September 2014 Letter from the Director

News released on: 
Sep 11th, 2014

Ernesto & David at BNB's most recent visit to CESTA in January

Dear Friends,

On October 1st, 1984, Bikes Not Bombs shipped its first container of 18 bikes to peace activists in Nicaragua opposing the US-backed Contras. And while 18 bikes may seem like small number now that we are shipping more than 4,000 bikes each year, reflecting on this milestone, we feel proud that our first shipment, and all those that followed, have proven that bikes are a transformative power in society.

We see the impacts of bikes everyday. Bikes are reliable, fast transportation for village health workers in Northern Uganda; bikes are alternative energy for agricultural machines in Guatemala; and bikes provide mechanics, shop owners and young people with meaningful jobs opportunities here in Boston and all over the world.

We have our community to thank for all these ways we’ve used bicycles for social change over the last 30 years. You have been there as volunteers at container loadings, or on Thursday nights, as Bike-A-Thon riders, as donors, as program participants, as organizers, and as ambassadors of our mission. And while we are proud of the work we have accomplished, we still see injustice in the world and are motivated to continue working towards our mission for the next 30 years and beyond. We hope you will stand with us by making a donation to Bikes Not Bombs this fall.

In the past three decades we’ve worked with 14 partners in the Global South, and each one has taught us important lessons about community-led transformation. Especially Ricardo Navarro, the founder of our longest partner, CESTA, the El Salvadoran Center for Appropriate Technology. Ricardo, a native of El Salvador, fled to Nicaragua after his outspoken critique of the El Salvadoran government put his life in danger. He met BNB co-founder, Carl Kurz, in Nicaragua in 1985 while both were working towards sustainable transportation by importing bicycles. Carl and Ricardo built a deep relationship while sharing their importation models and strategies. As Carl says, “Ricardo is an inspiration to [BNB] on so many levels.”

Ricardo revolutionized the way Bikes Not Bombs engages with international partners by encouraging us to sell rather than donate bikes. He knew that strictly donating bikes was not sustainable, but that setting up viable shops, training and paying mechanics, and selling high-quality bikes would create the skills and funding stream needed for long-term bike infrastructure. This model has shaped how Bikes Not Bombs approaches international partnerships ever since. 

Lionel, a youth participant in CESTA's mechanics training program

We work with organizations run by local communities and focus on growing our partners’ skills and capacity. Beyond only shipping bikes, we create real partnerships that allow our partners to lead the relationship and determine BNB’s level of involvement. Everyday we learn so much from them, information that we can then share with other partners. For example, recently, the Amuru Village Health Team in Northern Uganda asked us to support local leadership by hiring an in-country field worker as the Project Coordinator. We listened, hired Mark Odoch, a local who has excelled in the role, and will use this lesson with other partners in the future.

BNB has provided 30 years of continued solidarity with CESTA, a level of involvement that Ricardo cites as one of the best impacts of the partnership.  Other organizations may move on after only a few years of support, but BNB remains a long-term resource for our partners, while actively building an international network of social justice bicycle organizations.

This year we have already attended and participated in forums and conferences worldwide and in the next few months will bring a BNB contingent to the People’s Climate March and Convergence in New York City, show solidarity with the BiciRed Congreso (Congress of Urban Bicycle Organizations) in Mexico and, in 2015, will participate in the World Bicycle Forum in Columbia. BNB is committed to movements that use bicycles to build community power.

As Bikes Not Bombs looks forward into the next three decades the work that remains to be done is still so apparent. Every week we field emails from groups and individuals interested to partner with BNB only to find that our International Programs team is already at capacity. Or, our current partners outline their goals and next steps but BNB only has the resources to help in a few areas. This is where you come in. With a small donation we can provide additional support to CESTA and all of our partners while continuing to grow our international network of bicycle organizations working for peace and social justice.

Requests for support are not taken lightly here at Bikes Not Bombs, however we believe that the work we do, rescuing bikes slated for the landfill, building skills that can lead to a viable career path and building a community of social justice based organizations, is critical and must be continued. Please help us promote and continue our work for decades to come by making a generous gift today.

For Bikes Not Bombs, 

Jodi Sugerman-Brozan

Executive Director

P.S. Did you know? A donation of $150 funds over 10 hours of Skype conversations to provide technical support to international partners and $250 covers the freight cost of 25 bicycles destined to provide sustainable transportation and expanded access to resources for 25 families. Please support Bikes Not Bombs to build our partners’ skills, impacts and long-term sustainability by donating today.