The bike shop itself is part of a community center called Ekialo Kiona, which, in the Suba language, means “the whole world.” Started by locals with the help of an NGO called The Organic Health Response in 2006, the center was meant to provide computer training as an incentive to be tested for HIV. Mfangano has an estimated 30 to 40% HIV prevalence, and overcoming the stigma attached to the sickness, as well as providing medical treatment and access to counseling are OHR’s main objectives. The bicycle shop was created in early 2012, with the help of Bicycles for Humanity, as a means of mobilizing the island communities and getting people better access to much needed medication and counseling.
With a population of around 20,000 people, and a 40 mile long coast, transportation is an issue. Recent developments have brought a road that circumnavigates the island, and a regular ferry that connects Mfangano to the mainland, but infrastructure is rough, and electricity is still only available to a limited portion of the island.
Earlier in the year, the first matatu (a minibus used for public transport) was brought to the island, but on its first day of operation it crashed while attempting to climb a steep, rocky portion of the road on the north side of the island. The accident left one person dead, and several injured. This was the first and last attempt at introducing regular automotive service to the island. My first weekend on Mfangano, I spent a day riding around the island, and came across the vehicle, left abandoned on the side of the road. These roads were not built for cars.
Without automobiles, most people have relied on motorbike taxis to get them to the market, work, or the medical centers. This can be costly. In a country where unemployment rates are as high as 40%, and many people rely on fishing and farming for food, the extra burden of paying for transportation is not always possible. The heavy, rod-brake bikes from India and China widely available throughout Africa work for some people, but traveling outside the main market is difficult, as the roads become extremely rough. These bikes often break, and are not suitable for climbing steep hills, so most people either pay for a motorbike, or more often, have to walk long distances for daily necessities.
In July 2012, Bicycles for Humanity sent the first shipment of mountain bicycles to Mfangano, and Tiel-