Abandoned bikes from the University of Leeds are enjoying a new lease of life in rural South Africa thanks to an ongoing project led by the university’s sport development team and local charity, The Bambisanani Partnership.
Over the past four years the bikes have been sent to Mnyakanya High School in Kwa-Zulu Natal to support the charity’s inspirational ‘Cycle to Success’ programme.
Each summer, staff and students from the University of Leeds and Leeds Trinity University travel to South Africa to deliver a week of cycling-based activities to pupils at the school. Travel to and from school in these remote areas can be challenging with some pupils walking two hours every day to access education. The university students and staff spend a week teaching pupils how to ride and maintain bikes – a commonplace skill in the UK but a life changing and mobilising one over in this part of South Africa!
The programme ultimately helps pupils develop confidence and skills which support them to remain in the education system as well as the mechanical skills needed to keep the bikes moving long term.
Through partnership work in the UK with university campus Sustainability and Security Services, more than 20 bikes a year are refurbished and shipped to Mnyakanya along with new bikes acquired through university and Bambisanani Partnership fundraising. Spare parts and tools are funded by the Rob Stephenson Trust and support from Manchester-based shipping giants Cardinal Maritime means that the bikes are transported free of charge.
Many of the old bikes are damaged when they are acquired so university staff and students give up their time to repair them to make sure they are safe and functional.
The university student volunteers receive sports leadership and cycling proficiency training in the UK before travelling to South Africa to teach children aged 12-15 how to ride the bikes in just one week. 30-35 South African pupils are supported to learn regardless of their starting point – some have never sat on a bike before, while others progress quickly, learning how to signal and ride safely on open roads. Pupils are also supplied with spare inner tubes and brake cables and taught how to repair the bikes which inevitably break down more quickly on the dirt roads around the school.
The bikes stay in a hub at the school, being loaned out to pupils to break down the barrier of transport to school where one exists.
Additionally, students from Leeds and Mnyakanya also join together in a wide range of cultural activities with traditional singing, dancing and sports activities taking place after school each day.
For the past 14 years the Bambisanani Partnership has worked in South Africa’s most deprived rural areas using sport as a catalyst to promote education, health, global citizenship and leadership. The charity has gained international acclaim for its work and the university involvement has taken this to new heights.
The Mnyakanya bike hub and ‘Cycle to Success’ project is the brainchild of the university’s professional development manager Andrew Lockwood. Andrew was approached by The Bambisanani Partnership in 2015 to see if the university could support its work in South Africa. He accompanied a group on a fact-finding mission to St Mary’s School in Menston. Using his expertise and experience in the field of sport development, Andrew engaged with teachers and pupils to understand some of the challenges faced in accessing education and future employment and the idea of the bike hub was born.
It’s an initiative that has been really well received by the staff and students at Mnyakanya High School, as its Bambisanani co-ordinator, Mrs Pk Zondi, explains: “Cycling was not that familiar in our community until this initiative was introduced four years ago. Since then it has become part of the lives of many learners. During lockdown, when schools were closed, the students were so excited to be using the bikes. Even older people in the community showed interest in cycling. Our young cyclists have inspired the older community to fix their own old bikes up, some of which have not been used for many years. Once restored, some have been donated to the young cyclists.
“We do not have enough words to pass on our gratitude to the University of Leeds and Leeds Trinity University for changing the lives of our young people.”
Community member Senzo Mdlalose added: “It is so amazing to see the interest of cycling growing.
“I volunteered in assisting these young people if they have some challenges in repairing their bikes.
“Cycling is helping the young people not to involve themselves in doing bad things. I make sure that they follow the rules of Covid-19 while they are using and fixing the bikes.
“I so wish that this cycling project may grow stronger.”
Mnyakanya students are in no doubt about the impact of this initiative. Asanda Gabela spoke for many: “I love cycling. Sometimes I compete with my friends in a distance of about 10 kilometres or more. Cycling has become my daily activity, especially if there is no school.
“Many people on the road show an exciting interest in our cycling. We hear people hooting their taxis and others clapping their hands to encourage our cycling competition. Many people stop and watch what we do.
“I would like to thank Leeds University and Leeds Trinity University for introducing cycling to us.”
Picture: Some of the Leeds volunteers with recipients of the bikes during a visit in 2019.