Africa Feedback

Namibia: Bicycle Ambulance

We have developed bicycle-pulled ambulances for use in rural areas of Namibia to improve access to heath-care. The ambulances are ‘stretchers on wheels’ that attach to normal bicycles and tow a sick person or pregnant woman to a hospital or clinic where no other transport is available. In other African countries where bike ambulances are in use there have been marked declines in infant and maternal mortality rates. BEN Namibia designed the ambulance through an 6-month prototyping and testing phase. All of our ambulances are delivered through CBOs specialising in healthcare provision, and are accompanied by extensive training, field support and monitoring and evaluation.

Two men riding bicycle-pulled ambulances in rural Africa
Training the bicycle ambulance riders in Namibia

Ghana: From Asante Akim

Stephen the electrician is 54. When I asked him if the bicycle he owns has changed his life he said that with the bike he can move freely which has not always been easy due to a disability.

In January I visited the Asante Akim Multipurpose Community Telecentre, near Konongo, Ashanti region. Dr Osai Darkwa set up this project in 2001, a center to bring alternative incomes to the rural community. Firstly, solar power brought computer technology to the village. Then the center grew and has now connection to the electricity grid, a manual water pump and four buildings (office and training complex, kitchen, guesthouse and healing center). While I was staying at the centre 2 courses were held: one in computer skills and a second one in bicycle maintenance. Access to the three-month courses is very affordable at 5000 cedis (£ 0.30). The age group of attendants is 16 to 25 year olds. Only one of the 8 students in the bike workshop owns a bike, 2 have access to a bike and one of the girls does not even know how to ride a bike. But what they are all hoping for is to have a bike soon! The bicycles have had a great uptake in the community. They are sold at 100.000 to 450.000 cedis paid in 10 monthly installments. To have an idea what people earn: a farmer about 150.000 cedis and a teacher 500.000 cedis per month. Most families in the village can just about afford one bicycle per family. This often means that the males dominate the bicycle and women and young children continue to walk. Most girls in the area do not know how to cycle. The center has addressed that by starting a girls bike club. The bicycles from the container are stored and securely locked in the main office complex. There is enough space for repair work and teaching.

When the truck arrives the bikes get unloaded and sorted within 2 weeks before they get sold. Word of mouth brings people from the surrounding village to see the bikes. The day of the sale is mad! Tools and spares are rare and few and even the centre could do with more. Most people cannot afford to buy them. There are 2 bike shops in the nearby towns (5km and 8 km away). They also buy some of the bikes, but they pay the full amount on the day. No bikes are given away for free. The staff and people who come to the courses have great aspirations for the centre. Many hope that soon a health worker will be permanently based here. There are ambitious plans about marketing, trade exchange, tourism and of course funding for the day-to-day running cost of the centre! All in all it was inspirational!

Namibia: Condom Man Burns Rubber On A Bike

Several years ago the elusive "Condom Man", took it upon himself, with no payment or organisational support, to distribute free condoms and HIV/AIDS literature from the health centre in the town of Mariental to people in the surrounding communities. Reports from various sources confirmed that the Condom Man had been sighted on numerous occasions, walking up to 25 km per day to do his work. We were able to supply a bicycle to help Condom Man further his range and reduce his burden.

Namibia: Mr Elephant

Nakashimba Elephant, who refers to himself simply as Mr Elephant, doesn’t know how or why his family name was chosen, but there’s nothing slow and lumbering about the proprietor of the ‘DRC’ squat-ter camp’s bicycle shop. The squatter camp is only seven kilometres from Swakopmund, Namibia’s best known local holiday destination, but might as well be a million miles from the German bakeries and Italian gelaterias that feed the tourists. People live in shacks made from wrecked car panels, pieces of driftwood from the beach and old asbestos sheeting— anything to keep out the mist that regularly rises off the Atlantic ocean and engulfs the coastal town. The camp takes its name from the Democratic Re- public of the Congo, a country where huge numbers of people have been displaced through decades of war. For the hundreds of people in Namibia’s DRC camp it is not war that has forced them to live this desperate life, but poverty. Making enough money to buy food for one’s extended family is hard enough, but paying rent for a shack with running water and electricity in the nearby township is almost impossible. Namibia’s unemployment rate is estimated at upward of 35 percent, and the way forward is widely seen as small enterprise development, but in a place like DRC the resources to start a small business are extremely hard to come by. Mr Elephant outside his bike shop as BEN Namibia directors Glenn Howard and Michael Linke deliver the first consignment of bikes. Mr Elephant began in the bike business two years ago. Those people fortunate enough to have work in Swakopmund need some way of getting there and back. He noticed the few that could afford a bicycle had big problems when they broke down. The only bike mechanics in town were simply not affordable— even if they offered discounts on servicing the new parts they supply priced most camp dwellers out of the repair.

Mr Elephant cobbled together some tools and second hand parts from discarded bikes and began offering a repair service from his shack, teaching himself bike mechanics along the way. With his lively personality and prompt service he soon became well known in the nearby official township, and even wealthy residents of the town have started coming to him to repair their old bikes.

He expanded his shack, still using recycled materials, but it grew to a size where he could begin displaying bikes for sale. The people here really need these bicycles’.