A MONTH IN OUTAPI
Bicycles for Humanity (B4H) chapters worldwide inspire people to take action, to do something that will bring about positive change for others. For our Melbourne chapter, we ourselves are often inspired by the choice that individuals take to make a difference. And so, it is that occasionally someone steps up to do something rather special.
Marty Van Hoorn became an intrepid traveller in 2017, undertaking a journey to Namibia in search of satisfying his own curiosity about ‘Why’ B4H, does what we do, by visiting the communities we support, and to follow the journey of a bicycle filled container to Africa. Our own Gary Chan, caught up with Marty to gather some insight of the experience.
Having experienced getting his hands dirty on the ground in Melbourne during numerous packing days, Marty sought more. He wanted a closer look into the B4H cause, and to see the inner workings within one of the many bicycle workshops (Enterprise Boxes) run from transported shipping containers, now established by our friends at the Bicycle Empowerment Network Namibia (BENN).
What better way to see the impact than in person, living life as a local in Namibia. As an advocate for education as empowerment, this journey was an opportunity to gain greater insight into the issues at hand and to better understand the areas where western society can help improve struggling communities. Excited to extend his journey from fareweller of bicycles in Melbourne, so started his journey to the small village of Outapi, in Northern Namibia.
Staying within a guesthouse in town, with a bicycle of his own for transport, Marty was welcomed into the Outapi community by the Ekanjo Family. With a growing population, the Okathitu Bicycle Workshop, run by Hilya Ekanjo and her family, plays a vital part in keeping the community running. Or riding rather. Offering valuable repairs, efficient service and sales to those in need. Having experienced life with the family for nearly a month, it was clear to see their passion for the community, and dedication to helping others.
“In Outapi, I learned many things, and I think that the Ekanjo Family learned a little from me too. Some of the education was about bikes, and some was about communication and culture. I had comprehensively researched my visit before leaving, but the reality of being there and being invited into the lives of others was a great surprise.”
Day to day work within the workshop was much as expected, with English language broadly spoken across Namibia communication at home came a little easier than expected. When riding around town, basic greetings were met by waves and smiles. A favourite memory for Marty. However, where the national language, Oshivambo, was spoken by many utilising workshop services, a little assistance from others was required.
Outside the comfort of the family and work environment was a very different world to what one might be used to, and priorities are very different to western society. The greatest hurdle to overcome, being the cultural differences and poverty which proved confronting at times.
“The poorest people live in tiny shacks made from small pieces of scrap tin, and people eat the most rudimentary gruel for sustenance. Yet many of the poorest find something to offer or to do, even for the lowest compensation imaginable. Namibia has a diverse cultural heritage with many different ways. I only really got to immerse myself into the Oshivambo community, but I am certain that each region of people have very unique ideas and customs that would best be observed to build relationships.”
What became clear to Marty was the scale of opportunities. He soon realised the provision of bicycles alone is not enough to sustain a community, it is the ongoing maintenance to keep working order that makes the real difference. Where the basic necessity of obtaining food is a priority, be it basic, the idea of forking out funds to repair bicycles and vehicles is last on one’s mind. The ability to provide sufficient tools, training and supplies to cover costs and continue supporting the community with economic opportunities is a vital goal.
His most positive experience was in witnessing bicycle donations lift community spirit. Just visit the weekend BMX club, hosted by the Okathitu Bicycle Workshop staff, and join 40 or so kids riding and racing on one of the many donated BMX’s over sandy ramps and berms, and you’ll see the playful energy and camaraderie of the community.
“On the last BMX day that I was there, the kids spent time playing a 3 string slide guitar that I made from a bicycle frame. Many fledgling rock stars, and more smiles. They loved having their photo taken too. I choose to believe that some of the kids from the BMX club will grow to become bicycle mechanics themselves, as well as continuing the ethic displayed by the Bicycles Empowerment Network Namibia.“
Like many who have undertaken a similar journey into impoverished communities, Marty returned with resounding encouragement for others considering sharing his experiences. After all, the main reason people travel is to explore a world which is different to what they are used to, and perhaps to come back with a better appreciation for what they have, and in turn what they can offer those less fortunate.
“When I returned I had a greater understanding that the grey areas of all societies are always larger and more unresolvable than the more obvious issues. I quickly learned that cultural differences are what they are because of how we are nurtured, not our nature. Things that seemed radical to me were just other people’s day to day experiences, and the other way around probably. My big picture is bigger now, but the ideology of fixing broken things is not quite as linear as I had initially imagined.”
After experiencing life in just one of the communities we support, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the scale of opportunities. Rather than stepping back and shrugging our shoulders to the bigger picture, we step forward and continue to chip away little by little to help where help is needed. Our future is not a linear road, it has never been that, the more involved and the more we grow, we continue to evolve to support wherever we are able.
“It would be wonderful to have extra BENN personnel in Namibia to assist the Bicycle Centres with their processes. Just like it would be great to have more tools and bikes, I guess that it is depended on the resources available. I believe that we can, as a partnership between B4H and BENN, continue into the future to do good work and enrich the lives of many people.”
The combined input from organisations such as the Bicycles Empowerment Network Namibia and the Intrepid Group, allows us to share resources and build an even stronger foundation to support and nurture growth and betterment in similar communities. With initiatives such as Bicycle Ambulance, and Bicycle Enterprise Support and Training Scheme (BEST) as run by BENN, we are able to reach further and impact future generations.
Click here to read all three instalments of our Interview with Marty.
WE NEED MORE PEOPLE LIKE MARTY
The biggest opportunity for B4H going forward, is to build viable funds to support ongoing mentoring, coaching and financial support to empower communities to work with efficiency and perhaps further push cultural and socio-economic boundaries to allow for future planning.
As a non-profit, we rely on the generosity of those able. Be it financial, physical, or through the value of word of mouth – without a combination of these we could not grow. If you have something to offer, even simply words of encouragement, please contact us today.