Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Project Rwanda - Providing a Livlihood with Bicycles

In April of 1994 an estimated 1,000,000 men, women and children were violently murdered in a 100 day civil war in the country of Rwanda. A little more than a decade later, the country's people are full of hope about the future. With the establishment of a stable government, the people of Rwanda want to reconcile the events of the past and heal.

In 2005, Tom Ritchey, mountian bike designer and national bicycle racer, embarked on a trip to the lush mountains of Rwanda. While riding through the country, they discovered people riding wooden bikes with no brakes down the steep mountain roads from the coffee fields above. They used the bikes as transportation to carry heavy sacks of coffee cherries to the washing stations miles below. The coffee growers relied on one truck to bring the coffee down the mountain. Problem was too much coffee and no time to wait. Coffee cherries must be processed as quickly as possible after picking. They lose flavor and value by the hour. Growers without access to the truck have to carry the loads on their backs and walk hours to the washing station. The lucky ones have makeshift wooden bikes and get there just a little faster than the walkers, hopefully preserving the value of their crop.

Tom Ritchey and his friends realized the need for good mountain bikes with strong brakes specifically designed to haul heavy loads. They took on the challenge and founded Project Rwanda.

Project Rwanda currently operates with a small group of Board members who donate their time, energy and love to help. Because they do not have a salaried staff, offices or vehicles, Project Rwanda gives 90% of the donated money to fulfill their vision and projects.

These recent projects include building awarness about Rwanda's recovery and desireability as a tourist destination for mountain bikers. They sponsor a Wooden Bike Race, that is a sight to see, hoping it will become the buzz among cyclists from all over the world. Other projects provide the specially designed bikes for coffee growers and a bike distribution program to needy organizations operating in Rwanda.

Most interesting is the national pride project which plans to select, coach, train, equip and promote a Rwandan National Cycling Team with the goal of successful participation in International Cycling competitions. This is a creative means of promoting the cycling industry within Rwanda and providing increased awareness and national pride for Rwanda internationally. The cyclists could become national heros when they enter and win the Olympics, providing an emotional boost for young Rwandains, giving them a reason to keep their eyes on the future and hold their heads up high.

Rwanda is one of the safest African nations for travel and the people, though scarred, are eager to rebuild their lives. Tom Ritchey noted that he was sucked in by the positive attitude and smiles all around him on his ride in 2005. Rwanda is resilient. Tom Ritchey and Project Rwanda want be part of the forward vision and help make a positive and profitable reality for the Rwandains who have suffered so much.

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