Children in Ghana’s rural areas often have to walk for miles to get to school, an exhausting trip that can impede kids’ learning process, and even prevent some from pursuing an education altogether. A local initiative is aiming to change that by offering bikes made of bamboo to far-flung schools across the country, all while creating employment opportunities for local women.
The project, called Ghana Bamboo Bikes Initiative, was launched by young Ghanian entrepreneur Bernice Dapaah in an effort to support children’s education, create local jobs, and promote low-carbon transport.
While bamboo might seem an unusual material from which to build bikes, it actually makes a perfect candidate for the job. The plant is abundant in Ghana, is stronger than steel in terms of tensile strength, and is generally a cheaper, more sustainable material. It also takes less electricity to make a bamboo bike than a metal one, and the frame is completely recyclable.
And on top of that, to make the bikes even greener, for every bamboo plant that is cut down to make a bike, Ghana Bamboo Bikes Initiative plants 10 more.
“The reason we use bamboo to manufacture bicycles is that it’s found abundantly in Ghana and this is not a material we’re going to import,” says Dapaah. “It’s a new innovation. There were no existing bamboo bike builders in our country, so we were the first people trying to see how best we could utilize the abundant bamboo in Ghana.”
Besides encouraging Ghanaians to swap vehicles for affordable bikes, Ghana Bamboo Bikes Initiative is helping students save time on walking to school so they have more time to learn. Each time they sell a bike, they donate another one to a schoolchild in a rural community, who might otherwise have to walk for hours to get to school.
To date, they have sold more than 3,000 road, mountain, and children’s bikes – and Dapaah says they plan to donate 10,000 bikes to schoolchildren over five years. The initiative’s social impact expands even further. The enterprise is also providing local jobs, teaching young people to build bikes, particularly women and those in rural areas, where jobs are scarce. More than 50 percent of people they have trained are women.
The plan is to boost the number of people they employ to 250 over the next five years and they are looking to partner with NGOs to build a childcare facility so mothers can continue to work.
By promoting a cycling culture in Ghana, Dapaah says they’re also committed to reducing emissions in the transport sector and contributing to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. “I love the idea of reusing bamboo to promote sustainable cycling. People want to go green, low-carbon, clean-energy efficient,” she says.