Unwanted Czech bikes helping African children – and elephants

The Ostrava-based project Kola pro Afriku, Bikes for Africa, has just dispatched 200 bicycles to Cameroon. They will be used by locals to monitor elephant populations in an effort to combat the illegal killing of the animals for their tusks. But the latest consignment is just part of a bigger project that in recent years has seen Czechs donate some 15,000 bikes – many of which are today being used by schoolchildren living in rural areas in Gambia. I discussed the work of Bikes for Africa with one of its founders, Roman Posolda.

Photo: archive of Roman PosoldaPhoto: archive of Roman Posolda “Once people heard about the opportunity to donate bicycles they rang and asked, Where can we bring them? At the same time, people contacted us from many places in the Czech Republic saying, We have space.

“We now have roughly 120 collection points throughout the Czech Republic, so people can donate bicycles quite easily.”

And the bikes are repaired by prisoners and ex-prisoners?

“Yes, exactly. And homeless people. That’s a kind of bright side of this project – we love this point about the project very much.

Roman Posolda, photo: archive of Roman PosoldaRoman Posolda, photo: archive of Roman Posolda “These people have trouble coming back to society and live on the edge of society, and this is some way for them to try to connect themselves with society again.”

Could you tell us about the combatting poaching aspect of the project? Part of the project is aimed at combatting the poaching of elephants, I believe.

“There was one man named Arthur Sniegon – a Czech guy from near Ostrava – and he set up the project Save the Elephants. He went on his bike roughly 5,000 kilometres through Chad and Cameroon and he found places where hundreds of elephants had been killed for their ivory, and not only once.

“He said, Look, if we have a few bicycles and we give them to local people to monitor the national parks that might help the elephants.

Photo: archive of Roman PosoldaPhoto: archive of Roman Posolda “We started two years ago when we sent only five bicycles, to start off. And just yesterday there was the opportunity to send more. We believe this project is very good, really a very good idea.”

You’ve sent thousands of bicycles to schools in Africa. What has been the reaction to that? Have you spoken to children who use them, for example?

“Yes, that’s a beautiful side of the project. To meet that child who has received a bicycle. We go to Gambia at least twice a year and of course we meet children. And we meet the principals of the schools – because we donate to schools, not to families or children.

Photo: archive of Roman PosoldaPhoto: archive of Roman Posolda “The school is the owner of the bicycles and they then rent them to children who live the furthest distance from the school.

“So to meet the child who is able to cycle to school rather than walking on foot is an amazing experience really – very deep.

“You see a girl or boy who used to suffer going to school – or maybe they went to school only three days a week, because they weren’t able to walk 20 kilometres there and back every day. That’s a very deep and emotional experience.”