One day, while on an ATV (allterrain vehicle) ride to the uplands of Baclayon, Bohol, Joel Uichico noticed a common phenomenon. By then he had been working for five years on community-based ecotourism programs, which took him to remote areas of the town. He saw children in slippers hauling their backpacks as they walked to and from school in rough terrain under the elements.
Uichico decided to interview one of the principals, who confirmed that the children did attend school on foot, walking as many as seven kilometers for hours in rain and sun. Not surprisingly, the dropout rate was highest for those who lived farthest from the school. If only these kids had bicycles, he thought. And thus, Bikes for the Philippines (BfP) was born.
Although his initial online research led him to NGOs that would give out bikes only to other NGOs rather than to individuals, Uichico persisted and contacted his cousin Jo Grant who would eventually connect him to Bikes for the World. As the man on the ground for BfP, he personally takes care of choosing the school recommended to the board, does the ocular inspection of the school, interviews the recipients, helps with training, and arranges for unloading of the bikes, repairs, and shipping from Manila to Bohol.
Uichico is supported by an able team. Marisun Uichico helps with accounting and offers her family’s warehouse for storage. Bans and Athena Mendoza design the training module and conduct the initial and very important aspect of bike ride training. For documentation and applications for license, corporate lawyer Marge Buot is the point-person. Amanda and Chris Schoof regularly help out in the management of the foundation, providing directions to achieve its mission. And as a very important liaison to other foundations and grant applications, Grant will soon be heading Bikes for the Philippines Foundation USA.
People who wish to help may do so as volunteers. For example, BfP needs folks who can design and market items produced by the children of Baclayon National High School. The kids can do tee-shirt printing and sewing of shoe bags, cloth bags, and a variety of items. Other volunteers can do documentation and help with applying for PCNC (Philippine Council for NonGovernment Certification). Financial donations could go toward purchasing helmets, bike tools, and bike spare parts. In Maribojoc, children can weave native products that can be sold for cash for spare parts.
One of BfP’s regular volunteers is Carlton Styron, an American now living in the Philippines. Other donors like Dr. Reuel and Gryll Relampagos have been very generous in hosting in their home while the program in Maribojoc is moving forward. Dr. Nestor and Jojie Pestelos are their counterparts in Baclayon. With the project in Baclayon being more and more streamlined, the staff stay in their Balay Kahayag amidst a beautiful forest setting. Allan and Didi Bastasa have also been providing home stay for other volunteers since the inception of the program. Their family also donated the school grounds of Pagnitoan National High School in Maribojoc.
For schools that wish to join the bike rogram, a letter of interest addressed to the Superintendent or Supervisor of the District is the first step. The schools are chosen based on their ability to provide the infrastructure required for the program, including a warehouse, bike racks, training area, personnel to monitor bike use and personal data of the students. The other criteria would be that the children should live at least three kilometers from the school, there should be no public transportation, and their income level must be Php 6,000 for a family of five as defined by the UNDP Millennium Development Goals.
Uichico is fully committed to the program. He has seen that somehow, the provinces are neglected in terms of the sharing in the National Budget. Since the majority of the budget goes to Metro Manila, the poor from the provinces migrate to the big cities instead of staying in their towns. They end up squatting and placing more impact on the resources of the government, eating up what is supposed to be used for the development of the provinces. “All they need is a leg up,” says Uichico, and Bikes for the Philippines is literally a small step in that direction.
CRITERIA FOR ADMISSION INTO BIKES FOR THE PHILIPPINES
1. Children live at least 3KMS from their school
2. There is NO Public Transport
3. Family income is 6000 and below for a Family of 5