Community Effort Helps Refugees Learn About Bike Safety
The idea that Tucson is “bike-friendly” is an understatement. In a city with 475 miles of bike lanes, it’s no wonder wheels and helmets are the first thing newcomers notice. To Tucson newcomer and Eritrean refugee Berhane*, owning a bike opened up a new world of possibilities, including the benefit of having reliable transportation to his night shift at work.
However, receiving a donated bike was only the first step. Berhane* and several others gathered together this September to attend one of the monthly bike maintenance workshops for refugees, offered by BICAS (Bicycle Inner-Community Action and Salvage). Waiting in anticipation for instruction, each individual was taught the importance of taking pride in their bike by cleaning it adequately. Within moments, there were shining handlebars and filthy washrags.
The enthusiasm for learning did not wane as the three hour course continued with the expertise of BICAS instructor, Kylie Walzack. Though the workshop basement was thick with the summer heat and decorated in an insane array of metal bits and widgets, the group of students remained chatting happily and buzzing from bike to bike. Berhane, only arriving in Tucson weeks ago with a few English words, was already translating Kylie’s tips and tricks for replacing flats, checking brakes and lubing cables to Tigrinya, his native language.
With the combined efforts of BICAS and IRC Tucson, these workshops have helped refugees make strides toward self-sufficiency. While most people would be happy to receive a bicycle, few would know how to care for it. It is BICAS’ hope that many refugees like Berhane will be able to use this newfound knowledge to teach others to tackle sticky situations on the road. Walzack comments, “it's important to educate refugees about these skills and safe riding laws in the U.S. Regardless of where refugees are coming from, it's safe to say they will be facing more cars driving at faster speeds than they have probably ever experienced so it's important to give them knowledge and skills to ride safely.”
The class literally ends in a ride off into the sunset. What was a planned 15 minute excursion around the workshop, to assist refugees in getting acquainted with traffic rules, became a miniature Tour De Tucson. Returning an hour later, it was obvious that the group of newcomers had become official, passionate members of Tucson’s biking community.
*Name changed to protect privacy
Written by: Brittany Schilling, Development Associate