Blessings Kanache is a regular customer at Africycle, a store selling reconditioned bicycles shipped to Malawi from Canada.
In Malawi, Blessings said, “if you have a bicycle you are a rich person.”
The bicycle is a primary mode of transportation for 80 percent of people in Malawi, and Canadian Ben Voss saw a business opportunity when he visited the country in 2005, DW reports.
Vos saw a growing demand for quality bicycles to alleviate transportation challenges in rural areas. His visit to Malawi made him grab “the opportunity to take bikes that sit around in Canada and make a useful tool for families in Malawi,” he told DW.
Vos has been collecting and shipping bicycles from Canada to Malawi for more than seven years. After they reach Malawi, the bikes are reconditioned, then sold for prices ranging from $60 to $160 US.
Vos sells 1,000 to 1,500 bikes a year. He has expanded the business from one store in 2014 to three.
After funding the operation and paying a staff of 15, the money from the sale of bikes is used to support an orphanage in Zomba, with donations going to service organizations such as health care workers and social workers, Vos told DW.
Maxim Goecke, 20, is a German volunteer from Berlin who works at Africycle in Zomba, Malawi’s capital and its fourth-largest city. Goecke’s 10-month stay in Malawi as a volunteer with Africyle is funded by the German Volunteer Association.
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Volunteers such as Goecke oversee day-to-day operations at Africycle. Precious James is one of the local staff who does repairs and sales.
“If you can compare them (the bikes) with those from India, these are the good ones, they don’t make problems like the others,” James told DW. “You can use one for two years without any problem.”
Goecke said he is motivated by the fact that he can help people who cannot afford other means of transport besides their feet. “In the rural areas, in villages, people walk,” Goecke told DW. “There are no taxis, there are no minibuses. So a bicycle makes them much more flexible.”
People from neighboring Zambia come to Zomba to buy the Africycle bicycles, according to DW. Among them is Paul Mulenga from Zambikes.
“We have challenges of transportation and a bicycle is a tool which is used to enhance mobility in different places…in Zambia we have these challenges too,” Mulenga said.
Shipping has been one of the main challenges, Vos said. You can check out a video here on how Africycle works.