Bicycles for Uganda's Farmers

We can't change the terrain of Nyabbani sub-county in western Uganda, where farmers plant their crops on hillsides and walk the long, red dirt roads that become rougher every time it rains.

We can't change the low prices the farmers receive at the local weekly markets for their maize, bean and banana crops, when all they want is enough for school fees to keep their children in school.

But we can change the lives of these Nyabbani farmers  -- because of our gifts of bicycles.

I'm Katherine Cassidy, a resident of Lubec, Maine, and a former Maine legislator. In March 2016, we raised $1,700 through donations by Facebook friends to provide sturdy new bicycles for 17 farmers -- half of them women and widows. I am a widow myself, and I had seen up close the lives of these hardworking farmers a few months before: In August 2015 I served as a volunteer in Uganda teaching leadership skills and group dynamics to more than 240 farmers. All of them are members of their local agricultural cooperatives and, as I trained them to understand, they need to know what is expected of them as the coop's board members, or as active, community-minded farmers working to grow stronger, together.

In December 2016, we revisited the 17 farmers who had received bicycles to see exactly how their lives had changed in just eight months. We were stunned.  Because the bicycles made such a difference in everyday activities for these farmers and their families, we are determined to raise funds for 30 more bicycles to be presented in March 2017.

This  means that 30 more households within Nyabbani sub-county can increase their incomes, keep students in school and change lives, too -- all because of bicycles that cost about $100 each. Will you join us in helping make this happen? 

Here are three examples of how Bicycles for Uganda's Farmers already has changed lives: 

1) Dennis installed a biogas system two years ago, using cow dung, but had to sell his two cows to afford his son's school fees. Afraid he would have to shut down the biogas project for lack of daily cow dung, the bicycle he received last spring enables him to ride to his neighbor's house each morning and return with 50 kg of fresh dung. Not only do Dennis and his wife continue to cook and light with gas in their home; they started growing mushrooms four months ago using the biogas sludge byproduct mixed with grass. They hang the plastic bags in a darkened outbuilding over four weeks, and have realized new income from a new source.

2) Engrance, a widow, was caring for five orphan girls and two of her own daughters in her inadequate house last March when she received her bicycle. In April, she cleared nearby land down the hill to construct a larger home -- and used her bicycle to carry bricks and water to the building site.  She also takes the children by bicycle to the health clinic when they are sick, and has shared her bicycle with as many as 15 other farmers living nearby. 

3) Sophia, 46, looks after a household of 10, including three orphans. Before she had a bicycle, she sold milk from her cows every morning by the cup or liter to farmers who visited her home. After getting the bicycle, she identified a single client, someone running a small hotel in her trading center. She now sells all of her milk at once each day -- at a significantly higher price than she was getting by the cup. The bicycle also helps Sophia transport larger amounts of cow feeds, resulting in increased milk production.  (No bicycle is shown in the photo, because one of her sons was using it during our visit). 

Having bicycles in homes changes lives in many more ways, too. Farmers report carrying water and firewood to their homes; bringing in their crops from faraway garden plots; transporting their harvests to market or to milling operations; enabling their children to get to school without having to wake up so early; reducing time spent walking to gardens, markets and meetings; and sharing their new transportation with dozens of other farmers living close enough for assisting with their household needs, too.

Thank you for caring about these determined farmers and helping shape easier futures, effective immediately. For this 2017 campaign, we have distributed as many as 650 applications to the Nyabbani farmers. "Blind" decisions (no names on the forms ) on which households receive one of the 30 bicycles will be made in February 2017 for a March 18 announcement date. Farmers who are widows, who are caring for orphans, who have teenage girls at home, and also farmers with entrepreneurial plans for using the bicycles to intentionally grow their household incomes (such as the mushroom project) will receive foremost consideration for who gets selected for the next  round of bicycles.

Please read some of the written comments we received from farmers who received bicycles in March 2016: 
-- "I appreciate the idea of giving bicycles to disadvantaged people, especially widows, widowers and child-headed families." (Margaret, age 57).
-- "Bicycles change lives when put under good use. We thank you, Cassidy, and the American people who contribute money to buy bicycles." (Stella, age 50).
-- "The bicycle helped me contribute to the school fees of my childen." (Goret, 54).
-- "The bicycles can improve people's lives and is an ingredient for social-economic emancipation. It is an incentive to make economic investments." (Sam, 59). 

Consider this: A $100 donation means one more family  -- and many more of that family's neighboring farmers -- will be well-served by a new bicycle. We will send cash across for the bicycles to be purchased locally.  We expect these bicycles to last about 10 years -- and repairs made along the way further supports local young men who can make a business of repairing bicycles. Smaller amounts, too, will add up to full bicycles: Even your $10 donation means that, essentially, a family benefits from one year of having a bicycle in their home.

We believe that bicycles change lives! Do you?
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Katherine Cassidy 
Lubec, ME
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