When a donated bike ends up in Costa Rica with our partner MiBici it will almost always end up in a relatively rural area where getting around by bike is the most logical and cost-effective transportation option. During my time in Costa Rica I visited several small communities in Talamanca, close to the Panamanian border and well beyond the end of paved roads, where donated bikes were a lifeline for many people.
Our first stop was Katsi a small community co-op of only about 150 people, that feels cut off from the rest of the country. In order to reach the rural village, we had to cross the Tellire River by boat. There is no vehicle ferry or bridge. This community was only connected to the national electricity grid in 2005. Since the average monthly salary falls below $200, bikes are a comparatively low-cost option for getting around when compared to private taxis or moto taxis.
Because MiBici revamped their program last year to ensure that rural communities received bikes on a more regular basis, many folks in Katsi now have bikes and are using them for transportation to and from work. Most work on small family farms that are located several miles outside of town. They grow bananas, cacao beans, and plantains. Bikes help ease the burden of walking many hours every day to reach these plots of land.
One of the first people we met in Katsi was Carlos Morales. Don Carlos is a member of the empresa (co-op) in Katsi. He owns land nearby where he tends a small banana farm. His main work is farming cacao beans.
Cacao farming keeps Carlos busy in the fields and waiting.The cacao beans dry for 6-10 days in the beds after spending 6 days or so fermenting in the bags. His other farming, banana and plantain, fills in the gaps.
Don Carlos doesn't have a bike, but he has benefited from the program after receiving a micro-loan, financed through the bike project. His community awarded him the loan to improve his crops.
When I met him, he was wearing this DC area Bike To Work Day shirt that had been included in a 2016 shipment to MiBici!
The empresa in Katsi has been regularly receiving donated bikes since 2013 and, thanks to revenue raised from selling locally repaired bikes, were able to purchase land and build a permanent credit co-op to serve the residents of Katsi. This has allowed the empresa to serve the community by empowering individuals and families through increased access to capital for improving their small farms (like Carlos), augmenting government subsidies used to purchase school uniforms and books, and obtaining loans for purposes seemingly unrelated to bikes.
This article is the first in a series from Executive Director Taylor Jones who recently visited our partner FINCA Costa Rica, and more specificially MiBici, which is the bike component of this micro-finance project. Check back for more stories from his travels across Costa Rica.