A bicycle community activist project in Tanzania

Most of the images we see from Africa are of poverty or war or famine.  Often, they’re followed by a plea for help – just send money and you can make a difference, we’re told.  And then we’re given an address in New York, or London, or Paris – never in Nairobi or Lusaka or Dar es Salaam.

Umma wa Wapanda Baisikeli (UWABA) is not that type of organization – it’s people in Tanzania working to help themselves, and their website isn’t full of starving children or wailing women, but rather of smiling and laughing Tanzanians riding their bikes.  UWABA is the community of cyclists in Dar es Salaam, working to lobby on the local, national, and international levels for better road safety for cyclists.  They also organize annual cycling safety festivals in Dar and have started a bike messenger co-op, Fasta Cycle Messengers, which works throughout city.

Since cyclists in Africa are often from less fortunate communities and since pollution in third world cities is such a serious problem – not to mention global greenhouse gas emissions from transportation – it’s pretty clear why their work is so important.  And they do all of this with a miniscule budget and almost no international help.

When we visited UWABA at their office, a small windowless shopfront in a residential neighborhood, they had a dozen local cyclists at their weekly meeting and were gearing up for a scavenger hunt training ride to prepare the Fasta Cycle Messenger service.  Their enthusiasm and energy were infectious, and we left amazed at all they had accomplished.

There are no doubt hundreds of such organizations throughout Africa, most passing under the radar of the international community – if you weren’t a local, you wouldn’t know they existed.  We can’t speak for those other organizations, but we have met the folks at UWABA, and they are just what the world needs more of – ordinary people working together to make a difference in their own communities.

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