The following was written by BAP volunteer Megan Doyle. Megan and her sister, Erin Doyle, visited us in Gulu this July.
After three plane rides and one very bumpy road trip, Molly, Meredith, Erin, and I arrived in Gulu late Wednesday night. Thursday morning, after some strong coffee, the four of us took motorcycle taxis, or bodas, to the BAP office. Erin and I had never been on a motorcycle before, and we have since been on dozens!
Not only are bodas are the easiest way to get from point A to point B in Gulu, but they are also a great way to see a lot of the city. We zoomed past colorfully painted shops, wood and metal workers, vendors selling fruits and vegetables, goats and cows grazing on the roadside, dozen of children in school uniforms, and women walking with the day’s shopping balanced on their heads and their babies tied to their backs.
At the BAP office, Molly set out our agenda for the week. Our first order of business was to secure a new office to accomodate the four BAP employees in Gulu. Molly and Meredith will be living and working here full-time for one year, and they will be joining two Ugandan BAP managers, Andrew and Joyce. BAP will also be splitting the new office with Spark, another non-profit, to help both organizations keep their costs down. With a few potential offices in the running, we cleaned and organized the application and financial records in the current office to make the move more efficient.
Next up, we turned our attention to perhaps the most exciting of BAP’s acitivities: a bike distribution! The BAP team organized a local lorry to transport the 36 new bicycles from the Roadmaster bike shop in Gulu to the villages of Paibona. Then, we ordered paint and BAP stencils from Patrick, a graphic artist in Gulu, so we could mark each BAP bike. We also arranged for two tried-and-true friends of BAP, Lillian and Pauline, to join us for the weekend’s trip to Paibona to translate between English and Acholi as we spoke to the participants.
Getting all these things in order made me realize that reviewing applications, keeping track of payments, distributing bicycles, and staying in contact with past participants in several regions can be a huge organizational undertaking. Seeing how Molly, Meredith, Joyce, and Andrew made it all work made Erin and me so excited for the big day!
Distributing the Bikes in Paibona
Over the weekend, the BAP team, the translators, Erin, and I all loaded into the lorry to transport the bicycles to the Paibona region. The leaders from Tugu, Ayweri, Bolipii, and Acutomer villages organized all the BAP participants in the trading center in Tugu. These 36 men and women had successfully completed BAP’s pre-savings program, making one half of their overall BAP payments in small weekly installments, and would be receiving a bike of their very own.
After we all unloaded the bicycles and painted them with their BAP registration numbers, Erin and I traveled on to the separate villages with translators to speak with the participants. Erin and Pauline headed to Ayweri and spoke with three women who were particularly excited to use their bicycles to access healthcare for their children. Erin and Pauline also spoke to a man who served as the Chairman of the pre-savings group, helping keep the members on track with their payments. The Ayweri villagers gifted Erin with some delicious local nuts, and Erin traded them her Bucknell hat. The Chairman wore it proudly the rest of the day!
Lillian and I traveled on to Bolipii, and we interviewed many villagers who earned their income making and selling charcoal in roadside stands. Many of them had borrowed bikes from previous BAP participants to help them transport their goods to the market, and they were excited to be more independent in their business with their own bicycles.
Back at the trading center, the villagers from Paibona gathered for two trainings. The first was a session on financial planning, led by BAP Manager Andrew. Next, a bike mechanic from the Roadmaster shop in Gulu demonstrated the care and keeping of the bicycle, including making basic repairs. After these sessions, the men and women were ready to receive their bikes!
One by one, the villagers of Paibona were called to sign for their bicycles and ride them away. We could sense the empowerment and excitement among the participants. People chatted happily along the road with their bikes, adjusting their mirrors and topping off the air in the tires before pedaling down the clay road, riding into their next chapter.