For the past four years, World Bicycle Relief has worked with Greenline Africa to bring its Mobilized Communities programming to Hwange, Zimbabwe, by partnering with the community to provide access to more than 2,000 bicycles, mechanics and programming.
Hwange district, situated near Zimbabwe’s largest national park, faces several major challenges, including hot, dry climate with unpredictable weather patterns, lack of access to water and healthcare, extreme poverty, and food insecurity. In the region’s communities, where most of the population falls below the poverty line and rely on subsistence farming to feed themselves and their families, reliable transportation is critical.
Covid-19 has only exacerbated the hardships for Hwange’s community, which depends on tourism for many of its jobs and livelihoods. “The challenge that we face is producing enough food for the family as this area is prone to droughts or low rainfalls,” says Wozani Mpofu, a village leader. “The economic meltdown also impacts negatively on fending for my family, even when we receive average rain in some seasons.
But, with the help of bicycles, their lives changed. Villagers found improved access to health, education and well-being, supporting the individual as well as the community as a whole.
Meet a few of the thousands of people mobilized through the Power of Bicycles:
“Sometimes one can die due to lack of transport,” says Siduduzo Gumede, a 53-year-old community health worker in Hwange, who wishes all village health workers could have bicycles to help them care for patients.
It can take village health workers two days on foot to complete a patient visit, leaving their home early in the morning, arriving midday and then returning home the following day.
Along with a lack of reliable transportation to access healthcare, the community also faces hunger as a result of drought, job loss and a lack of tourists since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“When I was told I was going to receive the bicycle, I was very happy,” says Siduduzo. “I am now able to reach more patients and do more home visits. I visit my patients in time, I come home in time, cook dinner for my boys in time and have time enough to rest.”
Locadia Mpofu, 36, a mother of two, starts each morning collecting water from the borehole and preparing meals for her family. Then she begins her 10 km walk to her job as a childcare worker and women’s savings group member, leading women and child-advocacy meetings and visiting children’s households where there have been reported welfare cases.
“I play a role in helping women and children speak out against abuse and help them to have their voices heard,” says Locadia. “I also help women in the community form groups for them to do projects together and pool their savings.”
Unfortunately, because of the long distances she must walk – Locadia would occasionally travel up to 34 km to other villages – she has had to abandon several women’s groups.
Receiving a Buffalo Bicycle through the Mobilized Communities program has been a great relief. “Having a bicycle now is a huge motivation, and I can meet more people in a day. And my husband uses the bicycle to do some far-away chores and chase animals off our small farming land, helping with our food security.”
Smile, whose favorite subject is math, hopes to become an accountant someday. With the help of her bicycle, she now has the energy to pay attention in class and gain the education she needs to pursue her dream.
“The bicycle has helped me go to school earlier and quicker before lessons start,” says Smile,14, a student at Sizinda Secondary School
Before receiving her Buffalo Bicycle, Smile would walk 4 km to and from school each day, arriving at school tired. Smile is an orphan, living with her aunt and uncle and it is her role to perform the chores, early in the morning, before going to school.
“When I received the bicycle, I felt excited. It helped me get to school before lessons started. I dream that other children can get a bicycle so that they can overcome distance and they can go to school every day.”
Prior to becoming a field mechanic for his community in Hwange, Hayward Ntini, 54, didn’t know anything about bicycles.
“Now my life has changed – I have acquired a new skill fixing bicycles. I can look after my family. I can afford to buy basic things at home like soap,” he says. “Our children are able to attend school, and our community is developed.”
Before community members received bicycles, Haward says their biggest challenge was traveling from place to place – particularly for students trying to reach school.
“When I see this animal called a bicycle, I am so happy and relieved. Even if I need to go to faraway places to do work, my bicycle will get me there in no time.”
Levison Sibanda wakes early each morning to check the boundaries of nearby villages for lion tracks so farmers know the best direction in which to lead their livestock for grazing. As a Community Guardian in the conservation of wildlife and environment for the villages of Hlanganani and Jabulani, it’s Levison’s job to keep predators like lions and hyenas away from the community and teach villagers how to keep their livestock safe.
“I walk from one village to the other all day long until I get back home, tired of walking long distances,” says Levison, who travels up to 30 km to reach the boundaries of his post, sometimes clocking over 600 km per month—unless he’s lucky enough to catch a costly ride on a donkey cart. “Going to the farthest area, I used to camp there for at least three days so I could try to reduce fatigue from walking and because it would get dark before I could get home.”
“Now that I have a bicycle, I will expand my help to the community so they get timely information.”
The Hwange area is very dry, which means the community relies heavily on boreholes and water pumps. It’s Edward Ndlovu’s job to make sure the pumps are all working optimally.
The nearest borehole to Edward’s homestead is located 5 km away. On any given day, he could travel an average of 20 km one way to attend to a water pump breakdown.
“I receive calls from the community with regards to problems with the boreholes. Due to the distances that I needed to cover, I could not cover all of the reported cases on the same day,” he says. Before receiving the Buffalo Bicycle as part of the Mobilized Communities program, Edward would sometimes incur costs related to taxi services, which he struggled to afford.
“The coming of the bicycle is a great relief for me and my work. It means I will be able to do more work at home to support my family since I can now easily move back and forth. For the general community, it means more boreholes will be functional through rapid response. I can monitor all teams at once and give them the necessary support,” Edward says.
As a village head in Hwange, Wozani Mpofu plays a vital role in the day-to-day workings of his community. Until recently when he remarried, Wozani, 49, had also been a single parent to three children.
“My role as Village Head is to spread the news handed down from the chief and headman out to the community.” says Wozani. “I also monitor and instill order within the community.”
Even as a village leader, he doesn’t earn enough income to cover his monthly costs. And farming in an area prone to drought and poor economic conditions makes caring for his family more difficult. To earn an extra income, Wozani carves souvenirs for the tourist market in Victoria Falls and does small blacksmithing jobs. Unfortunately, Wozani lost the vision in his right eye due to a carving accident.
“Traveling long distances has been my greatest challenge in doing community work,” he says. “I sometimes walk 10 km in a day to reach the furthest point within villages which are under my supervision.”
Not only does the bicycle help Wozani fulfil his duties in his community, it gives him extra time to perform income-generating activities and spend time with his family.
“The bicycle has come as a great relief to my work serving the community,” Wozani says. “I will make sure my community is the best-developed community and is a safe place to be.”