By Benedetta Martin
At one of the many community gardens in central Adelaide, Australia I discovered an organisation called Bikes for Refugees (B4R). It is based at The Joinery, home of The SA Conservation Council and community groups who share a love for nature and sustainable living.
B4R is part of the Adelaide Community Bicycle Workshop: a low cost, not for profit mechanical workshop, run by volunteers supporting Adelaide cyclists and refugees.
It all started with a conversation on a bus between a member of the SA Bike Institute and some Congolese refugees. Chatting away in French, it turned out that what these women needed was bikes, so a proposal for creating B4R was taken to the Bike Institute committee and 10 bikes were donated, four of which were given to the Congolese women.
The workshop, which started in Mike’s backyard in 2001, now provides between 200 and 400 bikes to refugees and asylum seekers in Adelaide every year in conjunction with the Australian Refugee Association (ARA).
Adelaide is a large spread-out city where transport is essential to get around. Many refugees are based in Salisbury and Elizabeth, 30 km away from the city centre, and public transport is not easy to navigate for arrivals.
In terms of getting around the city there are many barriers for refugees to obtain a driving licence and access to a car. In many cases displaced people fleeing their country don’t bring their driving licence or never had one.
In Australia, to get a licence, it’s necessary to have 75 hours of logged practice time testified by a mentor with a full licence or a driving instructor.
Imagine yourself being a person who just had to flee their home, with little English and very limited funds, having to pay a driving instructor or finding someone who has 75 spare hours…on the other hand there are programs to help people, specifically on humanitarian visas, to gain confidence behind the wheel.
Luckily bicycles are familiar to most people and can help to bridge the cultural gap there is between displaced people and their new home. It’s a common ground for striking-up conversations like happened more than 20 years ago when B4R first started.
Furthermore, bikes are beneficial both for our physical and mental health as they allow us to exercise, create play time for kids and get to know our surroundings better. Something not to taken for granted, especially for refugees, who are more inclined to be affected by depression.
B4R is a self-funded organisation gaining income from the sale of bikes (75%), bike repairs and spare parts sale (24%), donations and scrap metal sale (1%).
Mike explained that around 30 people volunteer their time and skills to keep B4R running, many of whom were refugees, including Africans, Afghans, Iraqis, and Syrians.
Every Saturday B4R holds a “bike op-shop” where repaired bicycles are sold. Usually between 12 and 20 people show up.
Refugees in Adelaide find out about this scheme through the Australian Migrant Education Service (AMES), a resettlement organisation that supports refugees with finding a home,clothes, food, jobs… Refugees then go to the Joinery to choose and pick up their bike!
If you’d like to support Bikes for Refugees with donations or bicycles you can contact Mike at MIKEBRISCO@gmail.com, 0435021681 or at ACBWSA@gmail.com