Bikes in Africa

Photo by Will Okun. Published online by the New York Times.

In the last year, New York Times Columnist Nicholas Kristoff has made a thing of inviting students and young professionals to accompany him as he wanders the planet collecting gut-wrenching stories from the darkest, most overlooked, corners of the earth. Currently, Mr. Kristoff is in Africa, accompanied by his latest round of companions, among them Will Okun, a Chicago teacher and a bicycle enthusiast. In his most recent post, Mr. Okun provides stunning photographs of bicyclists and describes how important bicycles are to the economic livelihoods of many Africans:

Young men use their bicycles as both a source of transportation and income. They travel vast distances between villages, up and down hills, carrying heavy amounts of produce or other goods over their back tires. Bicycles also double as taxis. It is not uncommon to see a young man laboring uphill with two passengers seated on a makeshift cushion attached to the back wheel.

Mr. Okun concludes his piece by talking about the Working Bikes Cooperative in Chicago, a non-profit organization which refurbishes trashed bikes in Chicago and redistributes them locally and internationally. On their website they write that, “Due to wage differences, a bicycle worth $20 in Chicago can be worth the equivalent of $1,000 in Africa.” I’m not too sure where these numbers come from, but I think it’s safe to say that a bike has more value in the hands of someone who needs it than it does when it’s building up dust in the garage.

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