A 23-year Relationship with Fiji

by David Schweidenback
Fall 2015

One of the things about Pedals for Progress that makes us most proud is the tenure of commitment we share with our partners overseas. Indeed, our oldest partner, EcoBici, in Rivas, Nicaragua, has been receiving shipments regularly since 1992: in the last 23 years, we’ve delivered 24,214 bikes and 182 sewing machines there.

After Nicaragua, the second nation that we shipped bicycles to was Fiji back in 1993. In those days the port facilities had not been improved since World War II and the cranes were only capable of lifting 20-foot containers. Between 1993 and 2002, we made six shipments of bicycles to Fiji totaling 1,012 bicycles.

The program started out as a Junior Achievement Project and has been continuing ever since. Percy Navolo, the director of the Nadi Cycling Club, dedicated himself to the sport of cycling and the promotion of cycling in Fiji. Indeed, even more than the distribution of bikes and the promotion of cycling in general, Percy has engaged at risk youth into the sport of cycling by training them to be bicycle mechanics.

We had not heard from Percy in over a decade but he wrote to us this summer expressing his desire to receive another container of bicycles to push the program forward again. Beyond training youth, Percy is keenly aware of the daily stress on the many Fijians who lack basic transportation. The Nadi Cycling Club will use the bicycles in the training of its students but also will distribute the bicycles to the general local population as basic transportation.

Percy had saved up a little over half of the cost of shipping the 40-foot container. The Friends of Fiji, a national organization of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers who served in Fiji, has once again stepped up to the plate with funding to help with the shipping costs. So, too, has the Clif Bar Family Foundation, whose financial support has made Pedals for Progress more nimble, agile, and flexible over the last 10 years. Their assistance greatly extends the reach of Pedals for Progress and has allowed many more containers to reach those in need.

2015 Oct 24 Loading Fiji ContainerWhile the majority of the bikes were collected for Pedals for Progress by service clubs such as Rotary, religious institutions, and state agencies, 140 bikes in this shipment were collected by the Green Mountain Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (GMRPCV). This unplanned bonus closes the circle for Peace Corps involvement in all phases of the Pedals for Progress program: collection, consolidation, shipping, and distribution. The Green Mountain RPCVs held their annual Pedals for Progress bicycle collection in late September. The third goal of the Peace Corps is to take what you learned while serving and continue the mission. I, as a former Peace Corps volunteer, take the third goal very seriously and have dedicated my life to economic development in the Developing World. So two organizations in the United States, GMRPCV and P4P, while pursuing the third goal of the Peace Corps, will have a dramatic impact on the first goal of the Peace Corps, which is to create positive change. It is so satisfying when it all comes together.

2015 Oct 24 Fiji Container LoadedSo today, October 24th, 2015, we loaded a container with 440 bicycles and 68 sewing machines bound for Fiji. A special thank you to the Vineland and Westfield Rotary clubs in New Jersey, the Middletown Rotary Club in Delaware, and the Newtown Rotary Club in Pennsylvania, who kindly donated the volunteer effort to collect the bikes and sewing machines that allowed this shipment to happen. The shipment, while a small drop in a very big bucket of need, will allow at least 500 families to help themselves with sustainable basic transportation and many more with sewing machines. That is all they ever ask for, a helping hand, not a hand out.

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