“When I was nine years old, my brother died while I was trying to get him to a hospital”
I grew up in a village in the Fort Portal region, in western Uganda. When I was nine years old, my younger brother died while I was trying everything to do possible to take him to the nearest hospital, which was about 10 kilometres away. It was an experience that marked my life, and at that moment, I wondered why we couldn’t get to these sorts of places quickly.
I then returned to the orphanage, where they bought me a bicycle. Hours of walking to school suddenly took just minutes. I therefore had more time to study and my marks improved. My being able to go to the United States to study was definitely thanks to the bike.The ambulance bike has become CA Bikes’ most popular product. Sick people lie down in the back and are transported to the nearest hospital.
"Our work doesn’t stop at teaching villagers how to make a bike: we also teach them how to use them, or how to fix them if there is a problem"
After my studies, I decided to come back to Uganda despite the job offers I received in the United States. With a few volunteers, we started trawling through dumps to find scrap metal, tyres and wood to make regular bicycles. We then expanded to make cargo bikes [to transport materials], then bicycle ambulances capable of transporting a person lying down.
We have run workshops to explain how to build bicycles from scratch. I wanted to ensure a community can take ownership of the object from A to Z. Our work doesn’t stop at teaching villagers how to make a bike: we also teach them how to use them, or how to fix them if there is a problem. Some continue making bikes even after we leave.The first CA Bikes bicycles were assembled with scrap material found in dumps.We now make more solid bikes than ever, thanks to organisations that finance us. But despite the success of our project, we are dependent on the investors’ choice; they are not interested in every type of bicycle in the same way. Many more donations are made to help buy ambulance bikes designed to transport sick and pregnant women [in Uganda, 61 out of every 1,000 babies die during their first year], even though we also want to develop wheelchair bikes for disabled people.
“It takes 30 minutes, instead of two hours, to get to our clinic”
Several times, I’ve seen mothers lose their children and villagers die from exhaustion while trying to get to the nearest hospital by foot. When they can, the villagers take a “boda-boda” or local taxis, but they’re not safe because they often drive quickly on roads that are in poor condition [Editor’s Note: every day, nine people die from road accidents in Uganda. The state of roads in the country is regularly denounced by the United Nations]. In addition, these “boda-boda” are not designed to transport sick people or pregnant women.In the region around Atiak, a town in northern Uganda, 27 pregnant women have been transported quickly from villages to the hospital to give birth since the beginning of March.For now, there are only two bicycle ambulances within a 100-kilometre radius, because they still cost too much. Once they’ve been assembled, we leave it in the hands of a single person, who has been elected by members of the village community to become the bike’s manager. We teach him how to build the bike, and this person becomes a sort of guardian angel responsible for bringing sick people to hospital. It’s a revolution not only in terms of transport; it also strengthens the community.
Some villages in our district are at least two hours’ walk away from our clinic. Now, with these bikes, it takes 30 minutes to get here. An hour and a half’s difference can be enough to save someone’s life.