Internet rolls into Bangladesh villages on a bike
Amina Begum had never seen a computer until a few years ago, but now she’s on Skype regularly with her husband. A woman on a bicycle brings the Internet to her.
Dozens of “Info Ladies” bike into remote Bangladeshi villages with laptops and Internet connections, helping tens of thousands of people — especially women — get everything from government services to chats with distant loved ones. It’s a vital service in a country where only 5 million of 152 million people have Internet access.
The Info Ladies project, created in 2008 by local development group D.Net and other community organizations, is modeled after a program that helped make cellphones widespread in Bangladesh. It intends to enlist thousands more workers in the next few years with startup funds from the South Asian country’s central bank and expatriates working around the world.
D.Net recruits the women and trains them for three months to use a computer, the Internet, a printer and a camera. It arranges bank loans for the women to buy bicycles and equipment.
“This way we are providing jobs to jobless women and at the same time empowering villagers with critical information,” said Ananya Raihan, D.Net’s executive director.
The women — usually undergraduates from middle-class rural families — aren’t doling out charity. Begum pays 200 takas ($2.40) for an hour of Skype time with her husband, who works in Saudi Arabia. Begum smiles shyly when her husband’s cheerful face pops up. With earphones in place, she excitedly tells him she received the money he sent last month. He asks her to buy farm land.
Even Begum’s elderly mother-in-law now uses Skype to talk with her son.
“We prefer using Skype to mobile phones because this way we can see him on the screen,” Begum said, beaming happily from her tiny farming village in Gaibandha district, 120 miles (192 kilometers) north of the capital, Dhaka.
In the neighboring village of Saghata, an Info Lady is 16-year-old Tamanna Islam Dipa’s connection to social media.
“I don’t have any computer, but when the Info Lady comes I use her laptop to chat with my Facebook friends,” she said. “We exchange our class notes and sometimes discuss social issues, such as bad effects of child marriage, dowry and sexual abuse of girls.”
The Info Ladies also provide a slew of social services — some for a fee and others for free. They sit with teenage girls where they talk about primary health care and taboo subjects like menstrual hygiene, contraception and HIV. They help villagers seeking government services write complaints to authorities under the country’s newly-enacted Right to Information Act.
They talk to farmers about the correct use of fertilizer and insecticides. For 10 takas (12 cents) they help students fill college application forms online. They’re even trained to test blood pressure and blood sugar levels.
“The Info Ladies are both entrepreneurs and public service providers,” Raihan said.
Raihan borrowed the idea from Bangladeshi Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus, who in 2004 introduced mobile phones to rural women who had no access to telephones of any kind, by training and sending out scores of “Mobile Ladies” into the countryside. That hugely successful experiment drew in commercial mobile phone operators. Now more than 92 million people in Bangladesh have cellphone access.
Nearly 60 Info Ladies are working in 19 of Bangladesh’s 64 districts. By 2016, Raihan hopes to train 15,000 women. In July, Bangladesh’s central bank agreed to offer interest-free loans to Info Ladies. Distribution of the first phase of loans, totaling 100 million takas ($1.23 million), will begin in December. Raihan said D.Net is also encouraging the large population of Bangladeshi expatriates to send money home to help Info Ladies get started.
“It’s very innovative,” says Jamilur Reza Chaudhury, a pioneer of information technology education in Bangladesh. “The project is really having an impact on the people at grass-root level.”
Info Lady Sathi Akhtar, who works in Begum’s and Dipa’s villages, said she makes more at the job than she would as a school teacher. She said that after making payments on her 120,000 taka ($1,480) loan and covering other costs, she takes home an average of 10,000 takas ($123) a month.
“We are not only earning money, we are also contributing in empowering our women with information. That makes us happy.”
For $9 in materials, a practical cardboard bike
Izhar Gafni, an inventor in a remarkably entrepreneurial country, experimented for 1.5 years and is now preparing to mass-market a durable bike made from coated paper — with no metal parts. His aim is to put the Third World on wheels.
Bamboo bikes hit the pavement in Ghana
In Ghana, a country burgeoning with traffic congestion, increasing economic growth, and a stark urban-rural divide, making frames of bicycles out of bamboo could be the key to promoting sustainable development. It also makes stronger, longer-lasting bikes.
This is according to Bernice Dapaah, the executive director of Bamboo Bikes Initiative, which trains young Ghanaians to build, fix, and market bamboo-framed bicycles.
“We are into women, children, and youth’s empowerment. And the project reduces carbon emissions and contributes to traffic decongestion, so using it is also a form of reducing climate change,” she said in an interview with IPS.
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BikeCharge Dynamo charges your gadgets as you ride
While bike dynamos have been powering bicycle lights since the 80s, most modern bike lighting solutions operate on battery or solar power. But thanks to modern technology, it looks like the dynamo may be making its comeback, this time to power your gadgets. Created by iBikeConsole, the BikeCharge Dynamo is a compact, lightweight device that helps keep your USB gadgets charged.
According to the company, the device is 20 percent lighter than traditional dynamo systems and can charge most smartphones in 2 to 3 hours. While most people won’t be riding their bikes around for that long, the device is designed to add minimal drag while giving your connected device just enough juice to get by.
As an additional safety feature, the device also has front and rear LED lights that stay illuminated for up to two hours after riding thanks to a built in 700mAh Li-ion battery. Priced at $99, the BikeCharge Dynamo is a bit pricey for the casual biker, but for anyone who uses a bike as a primary mode of transportation, it may be a worthwhile investment.
Women allowed on bicycles as N. Korea turns wheels of change
In perhaps another sign that North Korean society is changing, Chinese media reported Friday that women are being allowed to ride bicycles for the first time for years.
Cycling for women was banned in 1996 because the activity wasn’t regarded as sufficiently feminine by the male-dominated North Korean regime.
The apparent relaxation came as Kim Jung Un’s powerful uncle, Chang Song-Taek, was in Beijing signing new deals to open up special enterprise zones on the Chinese border with North Korea.Chang’s visit may also pave the way for Kim Jung Un’s first official trip to the Chinese capital.
There has been a series of recent changes within North Korea: Kim sacked his army chief, Kim’s uncle signed the economic deal with China, there are more cars and advertising on Pyongyang’s streets, the regime promised the people their livelihoods would improve and workers will soon be allowed to officially work in factories in China and send money home.
Free bicycles help keep Indian girls in school
The daily trip to high school was expensive, long and eventually, too much for Indian teenager Nahid Farzana, who decided she was going to drop out. Then, the state government gave her a bicycle. Two years later, she is about to graduate from high school and wants to be a teacher.
The eastern state of Bihar has been so successful at keeping teenage girls in school, the bike giveaways have spread to neighbouring states. Now the Indian government wants to expand it across the country in hopes it might help improve female literacy. Before starting the program in 2007, officials in Bihar, one of India’s poorest and least developed states, despaired over how to educate the state’s females, whose literacy rate of 53 per cent is more than 20 points below that of its males.
“We found that the high school dropout rate soared when girls reached the ninth grade. This was primarily because there are fewer high schools and girls had to travel longer distances to get to school,” said Ms Anjani Kumar Singh, Bihar’s principal secretary overseeing education.
Poor families could not spare the money for transport, or were reluctant to let girls travel so far away, fearing for their safety. The program was an instant success, with the number of girls registered in the ninth grade in Bihar’s state schools more than tripling in four years, from 175,000 to 600,000.
“The results are remarkable. The school dropout rate for girls has plunged,” says Ms Singh.
In remote villages, along dusty potholed lanes surrounded by sheaves of waving wheat, gaggles of school girls can be seen jauntily cycling to school. The program has also raised the status of girls, who are often seen as a burden in son-obsessed India, where parents have to pay such hefty dowries to marry off their daughters that the family is often indebted for decades. Now, girls are bringing an asset to the family, Ms Singh said.
Mr Mohammed Jalaluddin, who runs a tea stall in Rampur Singhara, says his daughter’s bike is used by the entire family. Nizhat Parveen, his 16-year-old daughter, drops her brother at his school on the way to hers. When she returns, the family uses the bicycle for chores, from shopping for groceries to making food deliveries from the tea shop.
Bihar is also giving free school uniforms to girls to keep them in school. The bike grant money is put into a joint bank account in the names of the student and her parents, and school administrators monitor whether the girls buy bicycles and use them, or if the bike is sold and the girl ends up leaving school, Ms Singh said. But mostly, the program operates on the honour system.
With the most cyclists per capita and even coffee shops that cater to two-wheelers, Portland has been named America’s best cycling city, according to a new ranking released on Monday.
It knocked Minneapolis, which was tops in 2010, to second place, followed by Boulder, Washington D.C. and Chicago.
“No other city in the United States has more cyclists per capita,” according to Bicycling magazine, which compiled the list of the top 50 best cycling cities.
Although cycling culture is thriving in Minneapolis and Boulder boasts the second-highest percentage of bike commuters in the U.S., Portland scored top points in the ranking that evaluated bike culture in cities with 95,000 or more residents.
The magazine, which used data from the Alliance for Biking and Walking and the League of American Bicyclists, also looked at the number and quality of bike lanes, racks, routes and bicycling projects, cyclist-friendly cafes, as well as how many residents commute by bike and cycling clubs and events.
New York City, which will launch the largest bike share system in the country this summer, came in seventh, followed by San Francisco at No. 8.
Memphis was named the most improved city for bicycling.
The complete ranking can be found at BICYCLING.com
Khayelitsha cycling academy now 25 bicycles richer
Monday the 2nd April saw the culmination of the incredibly successful Pick n Pay Like Bike Campaign, when 25 bicycles were presented to the Velokhaya Life Cycling Academy, an organisation that focuses on giving youngsters from disadvantaged backgrounds the skills and opportunities to make a success of their lives, both on and off the bike.
The Like Bike, the brainchild of Pick n Pay’s digital marketing team and an integral part of this year’s Cape Argus Pick n Pay Cycle Tour, was powered solely by “likes” on the Pick n Pay Facebook page. For every “like” received, 10 metres were added to the distance intrepid sports junkie Liezel van der Westhuizen was able to cycle on race day; and for every 10 kilometres she completed, Velokhaya stood to receive a brand new bicycle, which meant a total of 11 bikes could ultimately be donated. However after the race, Pick n Pay generously increased the number of bikes to 20. In addition to this, Probike donated another five, bringing the total number of bikes to 25.
Learners spent the day yesterday putting the new bikes through their paces at the Velokhaya BMX Oval in Khayelitsha, with Suzanne Ackerman-Berman, Director of Transformation at Pick n Pay and Liezel van der Westhuizen joining in the festivities.
Velokhaya Life Cycling Academy (a non-profit organisation) is a Khayelitsha-based cycling initiative founded in 2003 which uses cycling as a vehicle for youth development and upliftment. A range of holistic, education-based cycling programmes are used to empower children living in marginalised and under-resourced communities. Through cycling, the children are helped to deal with their day-to-day challenges and develop to their full potential. The past eight years have shown that success with cycling often translates into success in other spheres of the childrens lives, as the sport teaches them essential life skills such as discipline, motivation, loyalty and teamwork.
To date, the cycling programmes have produced eight elite cyclists who have competed at the highest level of road cycling in South Africa, with two former cyclists, Luthando Kaka and Songezo Jim, now cycling for top South African pro-teams (Team Bonitas and Team MTN Quebeka). Both cyclists have represented South Africa internationally. Velokhaya also boasts a number of provincial road cycling champions (male and female) 14-year-old Anita Zenani achieved a UCI BMX World Ranking in 2010.
These are just a few examples of Velokhaya members who have become positive role models in a community desperately in need of these. Not only have their achievements inspired other township youth to become involved in sport, but their success has also brought great pride to their families and their communities.
Rio de Janeiro to have public bike rental program
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Hertz Expands E-Bike Rentals to Spain
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Travelwise: Bike sharing around the world
Bike sharing is on the verge of becoming an integral part of public transportation in cities across the globe. This system of impromptu bike renting is helping urban areas reduce automotive traffic and pollution while providing locals and tourists with a convenient, cheap and healthy means of transport.
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