Project Bike Love: Empowering Women through Bikes and Community
Ed. Note—this week, we bring you something a little different. Wattie Ink. is a partner with Project Bike Love, an organization lifting women out of poverty by supplying them with a bike and the support of the global cycling community. I chatted on the phone with Belen Ramirez, one of the two founders of the fledgling non-profit. All images in this post are courtesy of Called to Creation—a big thank you to them for their illustration of this piece.
Support Project Bike Love by buying a "Limited Edition" Wattie Ink. Project Bike Love kit. Order window closes June 11th at 12:00 midnight. Click here to support the cause.
When Belen Ramirez was in medical residency in Asuncion, Paraguay, she rode a bike to and from the hospital each day, and then she moved far away, to small city 500 kilometers from the capital. “I got another bike there, and it was longer back and forth from home to work, like 20k, but that’s how I got to the hospital each day. Soon a nurse asked me about riding to work, and she joined me. By the time I left, there was a big group riding with us each day!”
Ramirez is one of those people who, as you speak to her, makes you want to do more with your own life. Not stopping at simply earning her medical degree and practicing medicine in rural Paraguay, she’s also part of Doctors Without Borders, the legendary medical organization that does so much good around the world. She’s gone on missions in Chad, Cameroon, Congo, and is heading back out this coming fall, although she “only does one mission a year, now, for three months at a time.” She moved to Southern California in 2012, coming to the United States for love, and her fiancé, instead of an engagement ring, presented her with a mountain bike. “We went to a park with these big hills, and I was trying to ride up them, and I felt like I was dying. I kept telling myself when I got to the top I was going to kill my fiancé, throw the bike at him. Instead, when I got up there, I felt like super-woman.”
And then, since it’s nice to think that things happen in threes, she went on a bike ride one day with an elite amateur mountain bike rider named Erin Machan, who told her about an idea she had to empower women in poverty by providing them with bicycles. “I was, like, oh yeah, I’m in,” Ramirez remembers. Once, she’d seen a man ride 60 miles on a bike to bring his sick child to her hospital, and the idea made complete sense. They’d provide women the means to extend their range, allowing them to sell products, help family members, and strengthen their communities. “We speak women,” Ramirez says. “We knew that we’d be able to connect with them and find out what they needed.”
Eventually, they settled on Paraguay. Ramirez spoke the language, and already knew people locally, which became a big part of Project Bike Love’s mission. “We don’t want to just supply bikes and then disappear,” she told me. PBL buys the bikes from local dealers in Paraguay, and then partners with locals to support the women in learning how to maintain their rides. She and Machan went to Paraguay in 2015 and 2016 for the first of their two deliveries, but won’t be going on the next two, in the hopes that the local partners are starting to be able to stand on their own.
Other organizations are starting to take notice, and PBL is starting to branch out. They’ll open a new project in Bolivia, this summer, supporting another organization that has helped women grow soy to support their families. “They began growing more than they needed, but didn’t have any way of distributing the soy beans. That’s exactly what we do, so we’ll provide bikes to that organization to help those women, as well.” PBL hopes to expand locally, too, in Southern California where Ramirez and Machan both live. “We want to help women who are victims of domestic abuse, who have been assaulted. We want to give them something like a day at the park, where they get to ride bikes and have that feeling of being super women.”
At Wattie Ink., we couldn’t be prouder to partner with Project Bike Love, providing them with custom kits to support them, and we hope that you support them in any way you can. Buy a kit, read their excellent blog, donate to the cause, but find some way to get involved. At the end of our conversation, I asked Ramirez what else she wanted to communicate about the organization, and she said “We just want more people involved. They don’t have to be super athletes or professional cyclists. They just have to want to do something. I don’t consider myself much of an athlete, but I was teaching a group of women to ride, recently, and taught one of them how to shift. I had totally taken shifting for granted, but that was something I knew that she didn’t. There are so many ways we can teach what we know.”