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The Pinelands Bicycle Initiative reaches far beyond the money it earns

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Zidane, Michausa and Nathaniel (left to right) doing their thing while Stephen (in the background) looks on.

With a partnership like the one that exists between Bikes for the World and Pinelands Creative Workshop our summers back in the seventies and eighties could have been a lot more interesting. Back  then our summers were spent outdoors. Our diet was seasonal fruit and water unless we snuck back home for a proper lunch. Everyone knew where to reassemble after lunch and once a quorum was met it was off to the next adventure, sometimes on foot and sometimes on bikes. For us a bike was a lifeline, it was the difference between getting to the beach in twenty minutes or forty-five and that could mean that you lost out on as much as an hour in the water because you had to make up that time on the walk there and then on the walk back home.

A bike was precious thing, and because bikes were so important their care was almost a religion. Among us we had all the tools we needed; a bike spanner, a pump and a connection and a puncture repair kit. It was unlikely that you could find one boy in ten who could not repair a flat.

On Saturday I sat down with four youngsters ages eleven to thirteen; all of them had learned to fix a flat the previous summer. Clearly we are no longer in the eighties.

And it is because we are no longer in the eighties that the work of the people at the Pinelands Creative Workshop is much more relevant now that it has been at any other time in our past. PCW is a community organisation in every sense and only a community organisation can use an initiative like Bikes for the World to do so much with so little. PCW has reshaped elements of the Bikes for the World mission into a less tangible but equally important developmental platform for youth. Danny, Michausa, Zidane and Nathaniel are four such beneficiaries.

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Michausa, Zidane, Nathaniel and Danny.

This quartet worked with PCW in their Bicycle Initiative last year and are only too happy to be back for the Christmas shipment which coincides with their vacation from school. For them this a chance to earn some cash; that is what it mostly comes down to for them. Some pocket money to do what preteens and barely-teens do. Along the way they pick up some bicycle repair skills, learn how to maintain their own bikes and get access to a repository of tools. But for their bosses Stephen and Ronald the the initiative is primarily an exercise in life skills.

Ronald explained that before the boys started with the bicycle programme there used to be a fight every hour on the PCW grounds at Rock Close in Wildey; the PCW headquarters is on the border of the Pine community and it’s activities and atmosphere pulls young people out of their homes like a magnet. “Boys will be boys” was the confirmation that came from ”Bo”; the boys had shortened Stephen’s more popular name down from “I-Ambo”.  They speak of him with such polite respect it would be hard to see the getting up to any mischief, if they were not boys. He also pointed out that everyday or couple of days their was a new boy waiting to be employed in the programme and that this overwhelming vote of confidence from the constituents was an indicator of the significance of the work of PCW.

For Stephen and Ronald the program is not only about reselling bikes at affordable prices, and  it’s about more than using the revenue for PCW initiatives like the dance programme or the 11 Plus program that helps prepare students for the island’s secondary school entrance exams. There are softer and more long term benefits for the young men they work with. They learn about respect for people and property, about managing time and finishing a job in the best way they can, they learn about conflict resolution and they learn to take pride in their work and after all the work is done they feel proud to see someone walk out with a bike that they worked on.

Danny’s mum was especially impressed with her son’s enthusiasm and dedication during the time he was with the bicycle initiative; she confessed that he was excited about going to work and that his new-found responsibility infected the rest of his life. He was more active at home and around the house and he was ready and willing to take on new tasks. It was like the experience matured him, he was a “serious” young man.

Additionally, Zidane also showed signs of maturity and did not feel bad when a bike he worked on was sold, he was actually glad to see something that he had a hand in leaving, it was confirmation that his work mattered.

As for what really matters to PCW’s CEO Rodney Grant? That’s simple; the Bikes for the World and the Pinelands Creative Workshop collaboration is helping them generate change in their community in the three areas at the centre of PCW’s work; the Social, Economic and Cultural wellbeing of its constituents.

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