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Students Change the World, One Bicycle at a Time

Thursday, May 4, 2017  
Posted by: Christina Mimms
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By Chris Tate, dean of middle school, Porter-Gaud School, Charleston, SC

Driving home from school one afternoon in 2014, I passed by a gently used mountain bike put out on the street, destined for the landfill. I slowed down and thought to myself, “What a throwaway society we live in, and isn’t it a shame that someone is literally throwing away this bike?”

So I did what any good garbage picker does: I grabbed the bike and threw it in my car. I knew that I could at least donate it to Goodwill or something. By the time I made it back to my house, I had picked up two more bikes. I knew there must be a group out there where I could donate these bikes, so I got online and that’s where I found Bicycles for Humanity. It turns out that Bicycles for Humanity (B4H) is a global, grassroots movement with local chapters that raise funds, collect bicycles, and ship them to community-based organizations in developing countries. The collected bikes are delivered in shipping containers that remain in the country and become community bicycle workshops called Bicycle Empowerment Centers. And 100% of all donations are used to put bikes in the hands of those who need them.

As the dean of middle school at Porter-Gaud School in Charleston, SC, I always look for ways to get our students more involved in service. I want them to know that one person, even a 12-year-old, can make a difference. And so I picked up the phone and called the founder of the organization, Pat Montani, and explained my plan to have our middle school students start the Bicycles for Humanity Charleston chapter. I wanted the students to run with this completely — or at least with only a little guidance from me. After all, many of us have an old bike or two in our garages. Here near the coast of South Carolina, beach cruisers are everywhere. I knew this could be an annual, sustainable, service project for our middle school students — one with huge impact around the globe.

Montani was thrilled with the idea and within weeks we started our own middle school B4H Charleston chapter. Students locate and collect the bikes, break them down, pack the shipping container, and setup and maintain Facebook, web pages and Instagram accounts. We collect bikes and raise money through a variety of ways to cover the primary cost: shipping. In January 2015, we made our first shipment of 450 bikes to Karamoja, Uganda. In May 2017, the school sent 500 bikes to Namibia, Africa.

These bicycles solve the problem of mobility and empower people to change their lives. Bicycles are a game changer, whether they are used for carrying water back to a village, getting to school faster (saving precious daylight for studies), transporting goods to market to sell, or providing transportation for healthcare workers to reach far-flung patients. The impact our middle school students can make — are making — on people living in parts of the world such as Karamoja through a donation of an old bicycle is tremendous.

In addition to a challenging academic environment, schools bear the responsibility to create a culture that develops all members as global citizens. Young people feel a need to connect, want to serve, and believe they can make a difference in the world and contribute to society. Taking a cause like Bicycles for Humanity and planting it firmly in a middle school is the perfect way to develop a sense of service to others, while also allowing students to recognize their ability to change the world, one person — or bicycle — at a time.

Porter-Gaud 6th grader Sarah Quinn personally adopted the Bicycles for Humanity cause and so far has collected 82 bikes and $375 from residents in Seabrook and Kiawah Islands near Charleston. She has posted information on local blogs and community web pages to spread the word. “I saw this as an opportunity to help out others and learn more about these communities,” Quinn said. “These bikes are life-changing for people to use to get to school, to get water, to get food or work that is miles and miles away from where they live.”

If you would like to learn more about Bikes for Humanity, or have an old bike, bike parts, or funds to donate to the program, contact Chris Tate at ctate@portergaud.edu or visit www.b4hcharleston.org


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