Although we may ride them every day, we don’t often think of our bicycles as life-changing tools of empowerment. In Africa, however, access to a fully-functional bicycle opens up a world of transportation and employment opportunities that would have previously been impossible. Wheels of Change (WOC) is an international non-profit that collects donated bicycles in the United States to be shipped overseas to Africa. In September, a representative of the Wuparo Conservancy in Namibia will visit Montana to give his blessing to a shipping container of some 300 donated bikes that will travel from Billings to his homeland.

Wheels of Change, Montana, Namibia, Africa, transportation, bicycles, tourism, economy

The bike blessing will be just one part of a Namibian Conservancy Tourism Exchange hosted by Austin-Lehman Adventures (which created WOC) in conjunction with the World Wildlife Foundation. During the “no borders” tour, US-based land owners, Native American tribal leaders, government representatives and park conservationists and their counterparts from Namibia will share ideas on how responsible tourism can be used to conserve sacred natural areas and boost the local economy.

Some of the 300 bikes collected in Montana will be used by the Nkasa Lupala Tented Lodge to establish a village bike tour using some of the donated bikes. Others will be used to create a Bicycle Empowerment Center at the Wuparo Conservancy in the Caprivi region of Namibia. The center will offer hundreds of bikes along with tools and spare parts. Refurbished bicycles are available free of charge to, among others, healthcare outreach volunteers and school children. Income from bike-related activities goes to assisting a sustainable business model while creating local jobs. The profits are reinvested in other community projects such as growing food for AIDS orphans, making micro loans to foster small enterprises, purchasing school uniforms, and paying school fees for disadvantaged children.

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