Sunday, September 13, 2009

Old bicycles, new journeys: Village children find it fun to ride to school

MUMBAI: In 2007, the Institute of Information Technology's security officer Vijay Kumar came up with the idea of auctioning the bikes to campus residents and putting the proceeds in the staff welfare fund. Around 150 bicycles then went under the hammer, though there were many more that had to go back to the parking lot near the main gate. But now that IIT-B has heard about the Bicycle Project, there's no looking back. "Henceforth, all bicycles will be donated to the project,'' says dean (planning) K V K Rao. Indeed, students will now be actively encouraged to leave behind their set of wheels.

Three weeks ago, after taking charge of the bikes, Hemant Chhabra and his small team of do-it-yourself heroes who run the Bicycle Project, assessed this as the "largest lot ever received''. "Close to 200 bikes had to be scrapped but the rest will be jazzed up once financial resources are raised,'' says Chhabra. "In fact the money from the scrap sale was used to refurbish 118 bikes earlier procured from various donors.'' Chhabra now needs to raise about Rs 2 lakh for the makeover of the IIT bikes.

At the project's cycle workshop at Jhadpoli, 120 km from Mumbai, tubes, tyres and seats are replaced, and bruised and battered frames are worked on till they shine as good as new. Italian artist Diana Linda, who joined the project recently, gives them an aesthetic finishing touch with exuberant colours.

To date, 300 bicycles have been given to children studying in schools in Wada, Alonde and Dahanu under the project that began in 2008. And most students have stopped missing school thanks to their new vehicles. Old boys of IIT-B used to write bicycle diaries on their expeditions around the then undeveloped Powai. Soon the new owners of the same bikes will have their own tales to tell.

What is the Bicycle Project?

This one-year-old venture has sped along changing lives. Second-hand bicycles are collected, sexed-up and given a new lease of life. They are then donated to school-going boys and girls in rural India. Under Phase I, this project is helping children residing in the villages of Thappar Pada, Wada and Vikramgarh. The Hideout, about 120 kilometres from Mumbai, is where all the action takes place-this is where the bikes are refurbished and distribution to the children. The Bicycle Project team has a modest aim of reaching out to students in SSC schools in Alonde, Vikramgarh taluka, Wada, Jowhar, Mokhada and Dahanu. Once all needy students from these regions receive a bicycle each, the project will move on to other villages and so on. Bicycle donors can even visit students who benefit from their old steeds. To donate a bicycle call Hemant Chhabra on: 9820149022

Source: Times of India/ photo from Pratham Books

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