29 Mar 17

Rotarians donate over 900 bikes to Cambodian kids

Providing wheels, which provides learning

Embrun resident Bill Goodwin recently returned from Cambodia where he participated in Rotary Wheels for Learning, a project that gets refurbished bicycles to children affected by poverty. Photos courtesy Bill Goodwin

Candice Vetter

Villager Staff

EMBRUN — Local businessman, Russell Scout leader and Embrun resident Bill Goodwin recently returned from Cambodia, where he and 19 other volunteers bought used bicycles, fixed and reassembled them, then donated 932 bikes to children affected by poverty.

The project was through the Rotary Club of Gravenhurst, which Goodwin’s father belongs to and is called Rotary Wheels for Learning. Not all volunteers were Rotarians, but the club raised funds for about 300, and the volunteers raised the majority. Canadians were asked to sponsor bicycles at $50 each and Goodwin was impressed by the generosity of everyone he approached. “I told friends, clients, Scout leaders, and 67 of them offered to be sponsors.”

The bicycles were assembled at the schools, which was let out during the process because the children were so excited and wanted to watch and help.

The experience had a profound effect on participants. “Cambodia is one of the poorest of the poor nations. In 1972 to 1975, they had the horrors of the Khmer Rouge regime. They made children kill their parents!” Goodwin said. “Then the United States bombed villages in Cambodia and laid land mines. The purpose of land mines is not to kill as much as to maim.” One of his stops was at a land mine museum, which displayed inactive land mines which were unearthed and disarmed. It is an ongoing task. “They have a team of 10 and estimate it will take 25 years to clear the mines,” he said. “Then the U.S. decided to collect on its ‘war debt’ of hundreds of millions of dollars, so Cambodia is supposed to pay for being bombed.”

He said the country needs infrastructure, not war debt. “Rural kids could take short cuts to school (for which transportation and dangerous roads are a huge problem), but there are either land mines or jungle animals.” Schooling is difficult and sporadic for many rural children in Cambodia, especially girls. One of the incentives used to increase school attendance is putting artesian wells at most schools. “This encourages the girls to go to school. Families can come to the schools and bring their kids if they have bikes.”

Goodwin seemed shocked by the economic disparity of the country. “There are Lexus’s in the cities, and in the country a bicycle is a big step.” He also noted that there were no old people. “They were either killed, driven out, or died young.” During the brutal dictatorship of Pol Pot, the government exterminated two million of the country’s seven million inhabitants.

Since his trip he wants to sensitize people about the need and how Canadians can help. To donate see http://www.gravenhurstrotary.com/category/rotary-wheels-for-learning/.

The purpose of delivering bikes is because they empower a whole family in many ways. Families can get produce to market quickly and make a little more money. They can carry more water and not have to walk long distances to get it, and as the project’s name, Rotary Wheels for Learning, implies, they help children get education.