I just finished an attempt at chugging a beer outside the bus with Belen. This was our futile attempt to make ourselves sleepy for the next seven hours in which we will be taking a bus to our next destination. From there, we will take a boat to Puerta Casada where we will meet the next 11 beneficiaries and give them their bikes. I have no doubt we will make this trip safely because I have full confidence in Belen.
This is our second full day in Paraguay, Belen's maiden country. Our purpose here through Project Bike Love is to empower women with bikes. Now, the words empowering women may seem feminist and maybe you turn up your nose at me for saying it. But I am witnessing first hand what it means and it is all because of Belen and Erin.
The first morning, after staying up until 2am, Erin and I awoke to Belen jumping on our bed in all her excitement. "Time to get up! We have a big day ahead!" Little did I know how much we would pack into the day. We drove to Limpio and met several of the recipients who would receive a bike in two days. They lived in modest homes. Ok, they were sheds with dirt floors where we trudged through mud to get to their front door - only there was no front door. Just an opening with a few stray kittens roaming around and an open pot of something cooking on coals. This was Eugenia's home.
Next to the shed was a group of young people from Techo, a nonprofit group, who were building a new home for Eugenia. These new houses are built on small stilts and consist of 4 single ply walls with packing crates for floors. They are about 10'x20' in size. Now that might not seem like much of an improvement, at least that's what I thought, but I've heard from these women and seen several of these homes and I can say that it has improved their lives.
So how will a bike improve life for Eugenia, Letty, Ester and the 11 other bike recipients in Limpio?
"You need to tell Ester that she is a bike recipient". Belen tells me. That's quite a big responsibility, especially when I don't speak Spanish. I was nervous. The look on Ester's face when I did my best to tell her in my broken Spanish was priceless. She teared up and her mother told us that, at 17, Esther walks 2 1/5 kilometers to school each morning and then comes home to walk her younger sister to school. The bike will allow Ester to ride the 10 kilometers on her bike with her sister on the back everyday.
These bikes, and the new homes that Techo is building along with the computer classes they will be providing, are giving these women hope to improve their lives and the lives of their children.
So now I truly believe that Project Bike Love is empowering women and that the right women, Belen and Erin, are at the helm. That is why I'm on my way on a 7 hour bus ride and then a boat to a small town in the middle of South America with two women that I'd follow to the end of the earth sharing our passion for bikes.