Molly Burke, cofounder of Bicycles Against Poverty, reports.
Community leader Hellen Okello shares top concern for her village: distance
When my energy wanes, I look to Hellen Okello, a woman I met in Uganda, for inspiration. I met her in 2012 when she applied to Bicycles Against Poverty (BAP), an organization I co-founded that distributes bicycles in Gulu, Uganda.
She spent 10 years of her life – from 1996 to 2009 – in the displacement camps during the Ugandan Civil War. Her job at the time was to make sure everyone in her camp received equal portions of water – whether you were a soldier or civilian.
Although she was just in her early twenties at the time, Hellen, who was in charge of manning the well for clean water, became the camp mediator amongst the soldiers and the women and children who collected water for cooking, cleaning and drinking. She played a key role in the survival of the camp above and beyond her traditional duties as a woman.
Now a wife and a mother of three young children, Hellen has continued her leadership by serving as the women’s representative at the sub-county level. Currently, one of her community’s biggest challenges is distance.
“Distance indeed is the biggest challenge here and that is (the community’s) major worry because they fear issues of people losing lives due to the distance (to the health center),” Hellen told me on my last trip to Uganda.
Her village is over seven miles from the nearest clinic, taking most people over three hours to walk there. It’s no wonder that many risk losing their lives while traveling there by foot. But bicycles make the difference.
While BAP strongly believes this, it’s significant to hear such an influential local leader attest to this, because, after all, it’s her community that we strive to benefit.
Hellen’s story helps me appreciate how something as simple as a bicycle can be taken for granted in the United States, but, in Uganda, it is such an important tool for those rebuilding a life and community. Listen to her story in the video above and see how bicycles are benefitting her village.