Spoke Folk lab opens in Tanzania
Spoke Folk has served the Dunkirk-Fredonia community since 2007, making and repairing bikes for people in the community. But Spoke Folk founder Rich Goodman wanted to expand the program’s outreach. By partnering with University of Buffalo’s “experiential learning” program, Goodman is on the verge of seeing his plan come to reality.
In mid December, Spoke Folk’s bike lab located in Musoma, Tanzania, received its official dedication, which included the 20 bikes that were donated in an effort to help young women in Tanzania to stay safe and continue their education beyond what might have been initially possible. And Goodman’s hopes for the program go well beyond just donating bicycles.
“The whole point was not to just buy bikes, which in itself is a wonderful thing,” Goodman said. “But for me and partners over there, it’s a counterinsurgency type of statement. Give somebody a fish and they eat for a day, but teach them to fish and they eat for life.”
What Goodman means is that the program goes well beyond just donating bikes. The broader picture of Goodman’s goal is that the individuals receiving these bikes are able to turn it into a sustainable business model as time goes on.
“The bigger context of this program was that it would become self-sustainable,” Goodman said. “How it would do that is to not only provide the tools and the buildings so recipients could maintain and service the bikes, but they could also develop micro businesses, doing work for other people in the village and nearby communities.”
At the crux of Goodman’s vision is that of women empowerment. In places such as Tanzania, women still are not treated equally to men, and part of donating bikes and hoping for self sustained business is to give the women in Tanzania a better opportunity to succeed.
“The underlying concept is women’s empowerment,” Goodman said. “In some parts of the world, women and girls are treated poorly. Look how long it took us to get where we are. This will go on long after I’m gone and be totally self-sustaining. I want to see girls and women involved develop skills to run micro businesses.”
And it isn’t just limited to bikes. Goodman hopes that upon seeing this business, other members of the village and surrounding communities will take inspiration and start their own businesses.
“Something I just got from Tanzania the other day is that it’s become a role model for programs in the region,” Goodman said. “My hope is it’ll spread. People will maybe not do bikes, but something else. One of the first things they did that was kind of interesting was make reusable sanitary pads. They’re getting into other things thanks to the UB Learning Network, and they’re things that will make them sustainable.”
Beyond just bikes, Goodman said that he recently made an air compressor available to Musoma, which is another amenity that isn’t commonplace in Tanzania. Because there are a high number of motorcycles in the community, Goodman thought the compressor was another thing they could make good use of.
“They can provide tire inflation services to people within the community,” Goodman said. “In a community that doesn’t have those all over the place, maybe they can use it.”
Goodman is approaching 80 years old, and has been trying to pass on the Dunkirk chapter of Spoke Folk on to someone else, whether it be the City itself or someone who wants to learn. This includes the bikes, tools, and shop, as Goodman just wants it to stay alive. But with him close to retiring, Goodman has been able to reflect on his accomplishments and is particularly proud of his work in Tanzania.
“It makes me feel incredible,” Goodman said. “I’ve worked on and am still working on a lot of projects and I always ask myself before I go to bed if they make a difference or if they’re worth it. Then I get reports like I did from the local government that it does make a difference. Rapes have decreased, as have all sexually based crimes, and drop out rates decreased as well. So I think it has made a difference.”
Goodman said that Spoke Folk has given away over 1,000 bikes, but at the end of the day, he knows the bikes are just a placeholder for what they really mean to people. And for the people in Tanzania, Goodman knows those bikes are so much more.
“A bike is just an odd looking two-wheeled contraption,” Goodman said. “But for someone else, it might be the difference in being able to realize their dream. For the girls there, that’s what it is. It’s not just a bike, it’s a way to have a good life.”
Although a more comprehensive report is coming later on, Goodman said the early reaction from officials following the ceremony was positive. Goodman said that officials pledged to support the girls who received bikes by continuing to provide them with school supplies they desperately need. Goodman said he couldn’t have asked for a better present this season.
“I couldn’t be happier, and I can’t imagine receiving a more wonderful holiday gift,” Goodman said. “What started as a SUNY Fredonia/Dunkirk community partnership 14 years ago not only continued to help build a healthier community here in Dunkirk, but now it helps to change lives half a world away.”