Posted by Steve Lettau on Mar 15, 2023

By Michaela Haas

A few years ago, Jorge Romero walked his daughter, Mariangel, to school every morning, and every afternoon he accompanied her home. She was 13 at the time, and the 2.5-mile trek in Galapa, a town on the outskirts of Barranquilla, Colombia, was "too dangerous for a girl to walk on her own," Romero explains. The family couldn't afford other means of transportation. But walking his daughter to school meant that Romero, a day laborer, missed out on getting in the labor queue early enough to grab opportunities to work.

Like many families in Galapa, the Romeros are refugees from Venezuela who depleted their savings making the journey. Nine family members share a simple two-bedroom home. The family sleeps in one bedroom, reserving the other to store their few prized possessions — including the bicycle Mariangel received from World Bicycle Relief that gave her a new way to get to school. The family's hopes now rest on Mariangel to complete her education, thrive, and help support them. As one relative put it, that bicycle is a godsend.

World Bicycle Relief, a Chicago-based nonprofit started in 2005, has given away more than 684,000 bicycles in 21 countries, most of them in Africa. "Bicycles are a really overlooked tool for people to access opportunities," CEO Dave Neiswander says via a video call from his field office in Zambia. "There's a billion people that are challenged to find reliable transportation. Bicycles are a very efficient way for them to help themselves, which is what intrigued me from the beginning."