Four hundred new bicycles were donated to children across the Wayuu ethnic community in North Colombia earlier this month, as part of a special initiative led by the Seventh-day Adventist Church called “Wheels to Educate.” So far, 1,000 bicycles have been donated to children in Uribia, La Guajira, the most drought-stricken area in the region. Over 600 bicycles were distributed last year.
Dozens of children, along with their families across four communities comprised of hut villages, anxiously awaited the badly needed transportation. Dozens of church leaders and church member volunteers distributed the new bikes to the villagers. There are very humble, low-income yet culturally rich families there, said Pastor Mauricio Buitrago, youth ministries director for the church in the North Colombia church region and main organizer of the “Wheels to Educate” initiative.
“Having this number of new bicycles with a cost of approximately US $50 dollars each was accomplished thanks to the international donations, the support of the Inter-American Division and private companies in Colombia such as El Ciclista,” said Buitrago.
El Ciclista, a 25-year-old company belonging to an Adventist family, joined the initiative and donated ten percent of their earnings, as well as one bicycle for every ten purchased.
“We are more than happy to be here in La Guajira, donating and contributing to the work of the Lord,” said Dolly Moncada of El Ciclista. “Without a doubt, it is worth it to serve the Lord, for He abundantly blesses his children and all the people who choose to work for Him.”
“Wheels to Educate” seeks to promote education in early childhood by facilitating the transportation of children to their school, said Buitrago. “In many cases, it takes them three or four hours by foot on dirt roads, under the desert climate in the region, to get to their school,” he added. The new bikes dramatically reduce that time. Also, local authorities report that since last year’s donation, school dropouts have decreased significantly in the region.
For many children, a bicycle is the best gift they have ever received.
“Thanks to God I have been given this new bicycle, so I can go to my school and not miss my classes,” said Janiet David Gutiérrez. “We could turn out to be bad children if we don’t study, so that’s why I want to study every day and at all times, no matter how far it may be because I want to be an educated person.”
Lourdes Puchaina was ecstatic to get a new bike. “We have many needs here in Wayuu,” said Puchaina. “I’m so very happy that they have brought me such a special gift, so we can get to school.”
“Our main priority in our administration is education, and the challenge was school transportation,” said Jaineth Daza, social work leader in Uribia. “We began this project with the Adventist Church, and so many communities have benefited. We continue to call upon principals and teachers to motivate students to keep their bicycles in good shape, so they can continue riding to school and not drop out.”
Police authorities also look out for the children on their bicycles every day, organizers said.
“’Wheels to Educate’ is an excellent activity and I hope they can continue these activities to improve the quality of life of children, especially those from Wayuu,” said Manuel Mejía, police superintendent and citizen prevention and safety in the municipality of Uribia.
Buitrago said that several bicycle mechanics joined the volunteers who traveled for the distribution and repaired some of the bikes from last year that have deteriorated by the sun, sea salt and because many children ride three at a time on a single bicycle.
The project, which was covered by the local media, will continue in two activities next year, said Buitrago. “Seeing the need for bicycle upkeep, we plan to return for a week with a group of volunteer mechanics to check on the bikes and confirm that these are being used to transport only children to their schools,” said Buitrago.
Buitrago also said that many in the communities want to know more about the Seventh-day Adventist Church and their beliefs. “We are now planning to return with literature for anyone who wants to learn more,” he said.