Apr. 1, 2009
Students collect bikes for rural Ghana
Old, rusty bikes sitting in the garage after years of disrepair or disuse are often sent to the junkyard, drifting into oblivion or piling up into scrap metal. But Cornell students Anne-Lise Cossart '09 and Liz Bageant '10 are shifting this paradigm by collecting and shipping used bikes to Ghana.
Once in Accra, Ghana's capital, the bikes will be refurbished and sold at low prices to African villagers.
"We look at these bikes and think they are rusty or dirty, but [in Ghana] they definitely get used," said Bageant, a development sociology major in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
So far, the two-woman team, whose project is called "Scrap Metal to Ghana Pedal," has almost 400 bikes, and the donations keep coming. By April 4, when the bikes will leave Ithaca, they hope to have 500 bikes to send via truck to New York City, then via boat to Ghana in a huge container.
In rural Ghana, bicycle riding is common, said Bageant, but bikes are not always easy to come by, and the gear system on African bikes is different from standard Western bicycles. Bikes are not used as productively as they could be, and women especially have a hard time getting access to them, she said.
Cossart and Bageant are working with the Village Bicycle Project, an Idaho-based nonprofit organization that ships bikes to Ghana, provides bike repair and maintenance workshops there and sells the bicycles to community members and bike retailers. They also are working closely with Recycle Ithaca's Bicycles (RIBS) in downtown Ithaca, whose repair shop has served as one of two collection points. RIBS, a program of the Southside Community Center, has donated about 100 bikes.
Bageant, who spent seven months in Ghana in 2007 working with the Village Bicycle Project, said that when the bikes arrive in Accra, the impact is enormous.
"The crowds of people who want to touch, see and experience the bikes is amazing," she said. "Everybody wants one, for sure."
Cossart got the idea for the Ithaca bike project after she volunteered last summer for a similar bike-collection agency in New Jersey. She applied for and received a $2,000 grant from the Community Partnership Board of the Cornell Public Service Center. The money is being used for publicity, collection costs and for trucking the bikes to New York. The Village Bicycle Project will pay for shipping the bikes to Ghana.
Cossart said that the enthusiasm of the Ithaca donors and volunteers has been gratifying, with good turnouts for the three Saturday work days to transport and stack the bikes.
"This is a chance for me to give back to the Ithaca community," Cossart, a biology major in the College of Arts and Sciences, said while smiling. "It feels like the culmination of my whole Cornell experience."
Bike donations are still welcome at RIBS, 530 W. Buffalo St., and at 708 E. Seneca St. (between Eddy Street and Stewart Avenue, both in Ithaca).
Jill McCoy '09 is a writer intern for the Cornell Chronicle.