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A Cycle of Good Will

Nottingham Elementary student is collecting bikes to send to Namibia

What 10-year-old Winston Duncan remembers most vividly about his trip to Africa this summer is not the majestic Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe or the big game of Botswana, but the images of elderly men and children walking barefoot through destitute villages.

“What he saw in Africa made an impression on him,” his mother Dixie Duncan said. “He was very quiet when we were driving around.”

Winston, a fifth-grader at Nottingham Elementary School, was “disturbed” to see children his own age mired in abject poverty. It was difficult for him to imagine a life without video games, not to mention living in a house with no running water.

“It made me feel very sad,” Winston said. “These people barely have anything and the kids don’t go to school. I had to do something to help them.”

After Winston returned to Arlington, he searched for a way he and his classmates could improve the economic lot of the poor villagers he had encountered. Winston found the answer in the corner of his garage: bikes. If the villagers owned bicycles they would have greater access to markets, schools and medical facilities.

“People didn’t have any way to get around,” Winston said. “But they can use the bikes to go to towns and get food and water.”

This week Winston and the organization he founded, Wheels to Africa, are collecting bicycles to ship to Namibia. He is working in conjunction with the Washington Area Bicyclist Association and Bikes for the World to transport the bicycles to a nonprofit organization that will then sell them at a low cost to fledgling businesses and poor families.

“Each bicycle is a ticket to work or school for a low-income person and makes a huge difference,” said Keith Oberg, head of Bikes for the World, which has been sending bikes to developing nations across the world for a decade, although it has operated under several different names.

THE ORGANIZATION HAS supplied bikes to individuals in several Central American nations, Sri Lanka, Ghana and Haiti. Some of the bicycles go to children in rural areas to provide them with the means to travel to the nearest school, often miles away from their homes. Bikes are also provided to health workers and literacy advocates, who can “triple” the amount of individuals they see in a day once they have a bike, Oberg said.

The bikes are sold at a low price, rather than donated, to help defray the costs of shipping them overseas and to pay for the maintenance work required to refurbish damaged bikes. In Namibia the bikes will be distributed by a new nonprofit called The Bicycle Empowerment Network.

Winston’s goal is to collect more than 75 bikes and he has already donated the money he received for his birthday, this past October. To generate support for the project, Winston has spoken before the School Board, attended PTA meetings, handed out flyers at school and lobbied his friends and basketball teammates to participate.

“He is very culturally-aware and always wants to help people,” Dixie said.