BENN has helped establish more than 30 bike shops in Namibia. These shops are independently operated by local people, who are connected with grassroots partner organizations and have been trained in bicycle mechanics and business skills.
The shops sell second hand bicycles sourced from groups like Bikes for the World. The sustainable bike businesses benefit local community projects in fields like HIV/AIDS outreach, orphan care, disability support and vocational training for former prostitutes.
Bicycling Empowerment Network in Namibia, more commonly known as BENN, got its start in 2005 and has been partnered up with Bikes for the World ever since. Founder Michael Linke worked with BEN South Africa (also a BfW partner) to establish this sustainable model that has now been passed on to other organizations.
Michael worked with BfW partner Wheels of Africa in Kenya when they first formed. BENN even sent their star mechanic, Paulina there to help train the mechanics. Then, in 2009 Michael visited Madagascar when Transaid's MAHEFA program considered implementing a bike component to their health initiatives there. BfW is now supporting this Malagasy effort through a bike shop known as Miandrivazo in Menabe.
Last year BENN celebrated 10 years and took a look back at how they got where they are today. We also wanted to visit some of those original bike shops to see how they were doing...
Tate Kalungu Mweneka Omukithi wo "AIDS" Moshilongo Shetu (TKMOAMS)
TKMOAMS is an organization that was established to help communities live with AIDS. In Namibia, AIDS affects a large percentage of the population with an average 15% infection rate. TKMOAMS predates BENN by nearly a decade and came about because of the discrimination associated with the disease. People were hiding sick relatives instead of seeking treatment.
When TKMOAMS approached Re~Cycle, a group Michael was invovled with, about donating bikes, he was just about to travel to South Africa to learn more about the bike organization providing bikes and jobs to Cape Town. While Michael appreciated the need for bikes in Namibia to help health care workers tend to patients, he knew that wasn't the whole solution. Sending bikes into an area without support was a recipe for failure.
He then borrowed the idea of a rurally located bike shop from Bicycling Empowerment Network South Africa and became a partner of theirs in 2005. The idea was to take the shipping container bikes are shipped in and transform it into a thriving business that would not only employ local people, but ensure that those donated bikes would be supported and maintained for years to come.
BENN would help import those donated bikes from organizations like Bikes for the World and place them in remote corners of Namibia desperately in need of affordable transportation and jobs. BENN supplied the training to mechanics and salespeople and helped established sustainable businesses, some of which still exist today. TKMOAMS was the cornerstone of this project and is still thriving today. Read more about Helalia, the manager of the shop, who has been with TKMOAMS since 2009.
Above is Beata Ekanjo, the manager of Okafitu Bike Shop. Beata's sister Hilya and her father Lazarus started this bike business in 2006. At the time Lazarus was running a program through his church that was directly involved in the care of patients with AIDS/HIV. Hilya was accepted into a foreign exchange program the year before that took her to London and introduced her to bikes.
When she returned to Namibia, BENN was just getting started and opened up programs to help train much needed bike mechanics. Hilya jumped at the opportunity. When she returned to her village with these new bike skills she couldn't wait to share her knowledge. She also wanted to train anyone who was interested. Eventually they opened Okafitu Bike Shop.
As Okafitu grew, so did Hilya's dreams. As is the case with many of these community run bike shops, the profits from the sale of bikes and service is often reinvested in the community. And when Okafitu outgrew its 40 foot shipping container, Hilya invested that profit into making the shop bigger and more permanent. But she hit a road block. Getting bricks delivered to the small town of Okafitu was a challenge. So she started her own brick business! Okafitu is an excellent example of how a successful small business can build an entire community...literally.
Today the Ekandjo family now has two bike shops. Beata continues to run the original shop in Okafitu and Hilya and Lazarus have also started another one in Outapi where bikes and service were desperately needed. They also continue to grow the brick making business that is creating local jobs and delivering construction material faster and more reliably to their growing community. Read more about Hilya, Beata, and Lazarus and how they got their start and where they are now.
UUKUMWE BIKE SHOP
Uukumwe Bike Shop was established in 2008 and is still going strong today. Uukumwe is another example of a bike shop that is constantly giving back to the community. Profits from the shop keep bikes rolling in, help support health care efforts, and feed hungry children. More recently Uukumwe built a permanent home to educate the most disadavantaged youth in their community. They continue to use their profits to support the kindergarten, which provides pre-schooling for local orphans and vulnerable children.
Markus Kasoma was one of the first mechanics at Uukumwe. He quickly learned not only how to fix a bike, but how to run a successful business and took over management of the shop. He continued to grow this business for four years when he left to pursue his dream of joining the Namibian Police Force. Before Markus left, he trained Gothard to take his place.
Gothard is still the manager at Uukumwe and the success of of the shop continues. Markus is now an police officer, but occasionally drops in on Gothard to see how he is doing. Markus's background in healthcare gave him a strong foundation in caring for people, a skill that served him well as the Uukumwe shop manager and continues to benefit his new position as he watches over his community. Read more about Markus, Gothard, and the Uukumwe Bike Shop.
Disability Economic Empowerment Project- DEEP
Lavinia Friedrich came onboard with DEEP as the financial manager. Lavinia dislocated her hip when she was 14 and that injury left her permamently disabled. Correction, it gave her a limp. But in a society that quickly discriminates against people who are different she struggled to find work as she got older, until she connected with the DEEP Bike Shop.
The original idea of DEEP was to develop a project for people with disabilities. To help bring rehabilitation and home care through bicycles. Before the project even saw its first bike, however, DEEP evolved into much more. Those individuals with disabilities were called on to run the business. They were trained to be mechanics, salespeople, and financial officers.
David, Moses, and Lavinia were all involved in DEEP from the beginning and they all have mobility challenges. They immediately started changing attitudes in the community about what a 'dis'abled person could accomplish. They also reached out to more members of the community with similar obstacles and brought mobility aids such as crutches and wheelchairs into their shop.
The success of the business helped the team establish a computer lounge and internet cafe that is connecting their small corner of Namibia with the rest of the world. Sadly, Lavinia unexpectedly passed away in 2015. The loss left a hole in the DEEP community but her spirit lives on in the cafe and shop. Read more about where David and Moses are today.