Wheels of Change
IN 2011, Dan Austin had an outdated fleet
of 150 bikes from his Montana-based tour
operation company, Austin Adventures.
“The bikes were still very usable,” he says.
“I knew, from my tour operations work
there, that Africa needed our help.”
Austin and his son, Andy, joined forces
with Bicycling Empowerment Network
(BEN) Namibia ( bennamibia.org), and created
Wheels of Change International (WOC;
wocinternational.org). A nonprofit operated
completely by volunteers and donations,
WOC collects donated and discarded bikes
from their chapters throughout the U.S.
and ships them to Africa.
When the bikes arrive, WOC staff train
locals in bicycle mechanics and business
management. The shipping containers then
Costco members doing
their part to help make the
world a better place
AFTER SUFFERING near-fatal injuries from
a ladder fall in 2007, Larsen Jay was thankful
for the outpouring of support his loved ones
showed through sending flowers. While his
own hospital room became a floral refuge, he
was jolted to see the bleak surroundings of
many other patients. Few had visitors, familial
support or flowers.
Jay immediately began wheeling his
own flowers into the rooms of fellow hospital
residents, unwittingly launching what would
become the nonprofit Random Acts of
Flowers (RAF; randomactsofflowers.org).
Launched in Knoxville, Tennessee, one
year later, and now with locations in the
metropolitan areas of Chicago, Tampa Bay,
Florida, and Silicon Valley, RAF is described
by Jay as “a food bank for flowers.”
are converted into bike shops that sell, service
and rent bicycles at a subsidized cost, with
100 percent of all profits going back into
various nongovernmental organizations
throughout the community. There are now
36 shops, all successful and run by the trained
locals, in Kenya, Namibia and Zambia. More
than 33,000 bikes have been shipped to
Africa through WOC and BEN.
Bikes are a transformational element in
impoverished areas, says Austin. For example,
they provide a vehicle for improved health care
in remote villages. A health-care worker can
cover four times more ground on a bike than
on foot, meaning more patient visits, more
medication disbursements and longer visits
with each patient. Some bikes are actually
used as ambulances.
For household chores, a bike carries
up to five times the load that a pedestrian
can carry. Austin reports that statistics show
youths are 70 percent more likely to attend
school if their household owns a bicycle,
since they have a means of transport.
Austin comments, “Each bike will have
a new story.”
—Irene Middleman Thomas is a
freelance writer based in Colorado
C hanging the world
RAF partners with local grocery stores,
florists, wedding venues, funeral homes, etc.
to take used or unsellable floral arrangements
back to their central processing facility. There,
volunteers remove dead or wilting flowers and
donate them to a company that creates compost. The thriving flowers are rearranged to
make beautiful bouquets and then delivered
to hospitals, nursing homes, rehabilitation
centers and others.
At the health-care facility, the staff chooses
recipients who might need a pick-me-up or
patients without a support network. “[The staff]
knows who needs that touch point at the right
time,” says Jay.
“This is emotional healing therapy,” he
adds. “If you have a better, positive, emotional
mental health, you’re going to have a better
Random Acts of Flowers
© WHEELS OF CHANGE INTERNATIONAL
In our digital editions
Click here for more information
about Random Acts of Flowers.
(See page 13 for details.)
Andy Austin of Wheels of Change
assists with a shipment of bikes
from the U.S. to Africa.