Late last year Project Bike Love returned to Paraguay, distributing 50 bicycles to 50 women; the culmination of another great year of fundraising within the local community! After making such an impact in the rural Paraguayan communities visited in 2015, popularity grew for the scheme and a return trip was scheduled. Despite a few obstacles along the way, the return trip turned out to be a great success! We recently caught up with co-founders Erin and Belén to hear all about it.
Project Bike Love: This was your second trip to Paraguay with Project Bike Love; how was it and how did it compare to the previous trip?
Erin: It was amazing! I would say this trip I was personally more prepared. I knew roughly what to expect and I was much more open to the experience. It's an amazing country. I love the communities. I love the women we meet. I especially fall in love with the children.
Belén: We were more prepared and more confident. There was a big flood and we couldn’t make it to one of the locations, but we rely on our local partners and they delivered the bikes on the same weekend we delivered the bikes in our other locations. Also, we had Tom and Melody! It was so comforting for us to know that Tom was making sure the bikes were okay and Melody was taking photos.
PBL: Could you take me through a "normal" day of bike deliveries on the trip?
EM: Ha! I don't think we’ve had a normal day yet but we generally meet with our local partners before hand and then we go to the meeting location and check on the bikes and get set up. We have very little setup, just set out the contract for them to sign and get out the cards and helmets we bring to deliver with the bikes. After all the bikes have been delivered we go on a big group ride. We smile and laugh and help them make any adjustments they need. After that, we make some house visits and they tell us about their lives and show us their homes. The world looks a little different after each delivery.
BR: Once we were at the delivery place, we would gather the women under a tree. You always need to find a tree for shade!!! We would introduce PBL and ourselves to the women, and then each of them introduced themselves and told us about the way the bike would help them on a daily basis. I try not to become emotional but it’s a moment when we’re finally relaxed we made it, the women are there, the bikes are there, we are there, and it’s just time to enjoy the experience.
PBL: Did you receive a warm welcome from the locals? And did you get to meet up with any beneficiaries from the previous trip?
EM: We get a very warm welcome! The sense of community in that country is beautiful. You can't even explain it by comparing it to anything we know here in the States. It's a whole different world. We did get to go see some beneficiaries from last year. It's like having family across the world and the minute you show up they welcome you into their lives like they've known you forever.
BR: One of the women, Beatriz, had this mango tree in her house, and she gave us tons of mangoes. When we were leaving she asked, “when are you guys leaving Paraguay?? If you want you can come back and get more mangoes!”
PBL: I saw you did some house building on one of the days; how did that come about and how was it?
EM: We partner with Techo, an NGP in South America that among many other things, build houses. When we couldn't make it to one of the deliveries because of the flooding, Belen arranged for us to build houses with Techo. It was so amazing to do that with other local young people in Paraguay volunteering their time to help the communities.
BR: I personally loved to have the opportunity to show the team my world. I used to be a volunteer with Techo and now Techo is one of our local partners. As we had to cancel one of our deliveries and there was a national construction going on we just thought it was a great opportunity for the team to experience the work with the families and the volunteers. Tom and I had a great time with our family!
PBL: Do you have a favorite or standout moment from the trip?
EM: One that I will never forget is of Beatriz, one of the women from the first delivery. After the delivery, we went to her home and her and her father showed us around. When we got to the house Beatriz took my hand in her hand and lead me around their home. Her dad built this AMAZING bread oven and that's how they made a living, so she was going to use the bike to help sell their bread. I will never forget her taking my hand in hers. I learned something that day that I will take with me forever. How I can connect without having to speak the same language, without being the same age, without having similar interests, and with being from completely different countries. We connected because we were humans that cared about other humans. It was that simple and that beautiful. I only wish the whole world could feel what I felt in that moment.
BR: There was this little girl who wrote a letter promising she would work hard to get good grades to “pay” for what we did for them. It reminds me that the only difference between me and those girls is the place where I was born and the opportunities I had in life, and because of that I feel responsible for giving more opportunities in life.
PBL: Finally, is there anyone you'd like to thank for the success of this trip?
EM: Most importantly Belen, my gratitude for her and her commitment brings me to tears. She's the most incredible human I have ever known and her commitment to making the world a better place has helped more than I could dream of. Of course all the amazing people in our core group, Taylor Saul, Amy Stonich, Danielle Swiderski, Jesse Severns, Kara Duffy, and Matt Weber. And finally, our partners; Rock N Road Cyclery, Trail Angels, Over The Hump, Ride Like A Ninja, Red Monkey, Sisterhood Of Cycling, Wattie Ink, ZOCA Gear, and ZOIC Clothing.
BR: So many people! My family who opens their house and their heart making PBL their own. The local partners and ambassadors, Laurita, Alicia, Sole, Ana Lu, without them there is nothing we can do. My husband for loving this crazy human. The team, Erin, can’t even say thank you enough, Tom, Melody, without you guys this trip was going to be a difficult, thanks for giving your time and your talent for this cause!