Moving to a new country is challenging under any circumstances. But for refugees, settling in to a new home after what has often been a traumatic journey can be even more difficult. Finding somewhere to live, organising basic possessions, getting a job and working out how to get around can be bewildering and confusing.
Adelaide’s Bikes for Refugees program is an initiative that can help make transport a little easier for refugees. It’s a bike recycling scheme that supplies second-hand bikes free of charge to people new to the city who may not be able to afford a car, bike or public transportation.
Mike Brisco is the coordinator of the scheme which started about 15 years ago.
“I was on the committee of the Bicycle Institute of SA and a sister of one of the committee members met some African refugees on the bus,” Mike said.
“She asked them if they had any needs and they said they would like bikes. The Bicycle Institute took on the task and I volunteered to coordinate it. We put out a call for four second hand bikes and ended up with ten. The Australian Refugee Association took the extras as they knew other refugee families who were looking for bikes. We continued to get more bikes and the Association continued to hand them on, so we just kept going.”
The Bikes for Refugees program is co-located with the Adelaide Community Bike Workshop at 111 Franklin Street. About 100 bikes a month are donated and repaired. Many come from the public, and the City of Adelaide has donated ten abandoned bikes so far.
The bikes can make a big difference to people’s lives.
“People who receive bikes are very grateful and happy – you can see that from the way they ride when they try out a bike,” said Mike.
“Children can ride around, get exercise and mix with other children. Older children can ride to school, the library, or run errands, and adults use them to get to English classes, appointments, to TAFE, sport commitments and train stations.
“Often people don’t have a driver’s licence, so a bike can help them get around while they find the time and funds to get one. A bike can also save people money on public transport fares and petrol, which is a significant expense for someone who may be on a Newstart allowance.
“For people of different cultures, bikes can provide a point of contact. We might work together with a family on a project, for example, getting a bike ready to give to a child by adding trainer wheels. It’s only a small thing, but there is contact, communication, understanding and maybe a bit of trust. It’s kind of special.
“One of the nice things is to give someone the right bike for them and know they will make good use of it. We recently had a family with several teenage children come in. We had a good quality teenager’s bike which usually we’d want to sell. However, one of the boys picked it out. We could tell he really liked it, it fitted him, he was a serious kid, he would look after that bike, and ride it a lot. We were happy that bike went to a good home.”
The workshop also sells bikes and parts to raise funds that it can use to help refugee families in other ways, such as direct assistance, or supporting Australian Refugee Association and Red Cross.
“The volunteers who fix up our donated bikes are cyclists who enjoy working with bikes and learning how to do repairs, while making something useful that can help someone in need. You can pop in to see what we have for sale on Saturdays between 9am and 2pm,” said Mike.
For more information about Bikes for Refugees and how to donate a bike, visit adelaidebikeworkshop.wordpress.com/bikes-for-refugees/
The program at work ….
A man from the Middle East was struggling to get to the city for appointments and to meet his daughter after school. After receiving a bike, he can now get to where he needs to go with ease while staying fit, which is important to him. He also rides to his volunteer job at a local old people’s home, where he has an opportunity to mix with the Australian community, meet people, and practise English.
Riding to wellness
The gift of a bike has also helped a traumatised refugee from an African country who is receiving counselling from STTARS, an organisation that helps survivors of trauma and torture rebuild their lives. The man had been a keen cyclist, but couldn’t afford to buy a bike new. He can now get exercise in a way he enjoys, and his mental and physical well-being have improved.
Did you know?
The City of Adelaide was declared a Refugee Welcome Zone in August 2014. We welcome refugees and asylum seekers to the city and acknowledge the difficult journey men, women and children make to Australia to seek our protection.