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Nambia Bicycle Empowerment

THE Bicycle Empowerment Network (BEN) Namibia has received a shipment of 350 bikes from its UK Partner Charity, Re-Cycle.

The Namibian (Windhoek)

Re-Cycle collects unused bikes in the UK and ships them to organisations in six African countries.

BEN Namibia was started by Michael Linke, a cycling enthusiast from Australia, after he noticed the lack of bikes in Windhoek on a visit last year.

He got the idea from a similar organisation in Cape Town, which takes second-hand bicycles from UK and European charities, refurbishes them and sells them through community-based shops it helps establish.

BEN Namibia has been in existence for six weeks and has started training mechanics, refurbishing bikes and selling them from its warehouse and training centre in Windhoek's Southern Industrial Area.

It also aims to encourage individuals and community organisations to start shops across Namibia, selling and repairing bikes.

"BEN Namibia fits perfectly with the National Government's push to develop SMEs [small and medium-sized enterprises]," said Linke.

BEN Namibia has also co-ordinated donations of 48 new bicycles to HIV-AIDS home-based care volunteers, who can extend their range, deliver more medical and sanitary supplies, and see more clients in remote parts of the country.

Some volunteers transported sick people to clinics and hospitals with the bikes.

"This is hardly ideal," said Linke, "so we are developing bicycle ambulances, basically a stretcher on wheels towed behind a bike, to get people to hospital in remote areas where there is no other transport."

While the company receives technical assistance from BEN Cape Town, the money to start the company was raised by Linke himself.

This included selling his soul on Ebay.

Said Linke: "I really believe in the project, so I thought, why not put my soul into it? Fortunately, the winning bid, N$1,100, turned out to be from a good friend who has my soul in safe-keeping."

BEN Namibia also wants to make Namibian cities more bike friendly.

Dialogue with the City of Windhoek has already begun, and the city has been receptive to the idea.

"Cycling is becoming very popular in Windhoek, but there are no bike lanes, so sometimes drivers don't treat you with enough respect," said Victor Nakalenga, one of BEN Namibia's mechanics and a keen cyclist who trains with Tokkie Bombosch's Cycletec team.

John Stephanus, a trainee mechanic with BEN Namibia, said: "Bikes are a good way to travel. They are cheap and much faster than walking."

John is on an 'earn-a-bike' programme at BEN Namibia, exchanging work for mechanic training and credit towards a bicycle.

He has already earned his first bike, which he has given to his brother in Okalongo, who was walking eight kilometres to school and back each day.

Glenn Howard, one of BEN Namibia's Directors, is also the President of the Namibian Cycling Federation.

"A bicycle is a perfect development tool. It can triple a person's load-carrying capacity and travelling range. It creates new employment opportunities and improves access to education and health care. The Bicycling Empowerment Network Namibia is just what we need, and the Namibian sports cycling community is very supportive."

BEN Namibia has about 400 bikes in its warehouse.

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