The Sponge Man

by Patricia Hamill
Winter 2012 InGear

Opoku is a trader who deals in sponges. A lot of sponges if he is lucky. He reaches his potential customers by travelling around and hawking (calling out) his wares. Before Opoku received his bicycle, a usual day saw him transporting the sponges by hanging them around his shoulders, strapping the rest on his back, and heading off to peddle his goods on foot. Individual dry sponges are relatively light, but hauling large numbers attached to your body is a whole different thing. Then add trying to walk with these crowding your limbs. Covering long distances in a timely fashion and keeping up the energy needed to vociferously attract your buyers is not the most reasonable expectation, but Opoku’s family must be fed and he has made use of what he has at his disposal: his body and voice.

The Sponge Man, Opoku, on his daily route

The Sponge Man, Opoku, on his daily route

While there could be worse options, such as no work at all, there is no reason why Opoku and his family should not have every possible opportunity to make their days more profitable and less exhausting. Our partnership with WEBike in Ghana has given Opoku a chance to cover more ground and reach a wider customer base. He might still be crowded by the sponges, but the bike helps distribute the weight and gets him to his destinations with less exertion. Good health and fitness also replace exhaustion. What is extremely important to keep in mind is that Opoku lives in a very busy and often congested area of Ghana called Accra.

Covering long distances is not an unusual part of the life of many of the people we have spotlighted over the years, but the type of commute is to be considered. Some of the people who now use bikes travel long dusty roads, some travel rocky and treacherous hills, others busy streets. Opoku’s work takes him through large towns and neighborhoods where maneuvering on foot with awkward bulk can become incredibly difficult. Now, any reader can attest to the fact that wheels cover more distance than feet, so, with the bicycle, Opoku has the opportunity to reach so many more customers in this consumer-rich region. All he has needed is a way to cover more ground so he could reach a more inland town like Kaneshie and also reach one more in the direction of the coast like Manprobi. With the bike, he can plan more varied daily routes and make a wider sweep of the map.

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