Ghana's Bamboo Bike Initiative Helps Kids Go Back to School

This eco-friendly project streamlines school commutes and creates jobs.

Sep 3, 2020

In Ghana, hundreds of schoolchildren are excited to go back to school in style, via their cutting-edge bamboo bikes. But these bikes aren’t just a green way of getting to classes; they are making a world of difference to students who may have not reached their schools otherwise. 

Ghana Bamboo Bikes, based in Kumasi in southern Ghana, manufactures and sells bikes with frames made from locally-sourced bamboo. The result is an eco-friendly mix of style and function that helps both children and adults avoid long walking commutes. 

Employment creation and being green are both very important to us,” Bernice Dapaah, Bamboo Bikes’ founder, told The Guardian. “We recycle wheels, gears, brakes and handles [from second-hand steel bikes] and refurbish them, and only a few of the components are imported, like the tires.”

Dapaah explained, “The bamboo comprises around 75-80% of our bikes and the epoxy is made from tree fibers; we initially used cassava paste, but it didn’t work. We also plant 10 bamboo trees for every one we harvest for a bike.”

Ghana Bamboo Bikes was founded in 2009 by Dapaah and classmate Winnifred Selby after completion of her degree in business administration. “When I was in college, I decided to see how best I can do something [to give back], especially using our local raw materials,” Dapaah said in a video interview with Al Jazeera.

Each year, the company donates hundreds of bikes free of charge to kids who face barriers in accessing transportation to school. “The idea of us giving back, donating bikes for kids is really amazing,” she said.

The project was inspired by Dapaah’s childhood experiences. Raised by her grandfather in a rural village with limited transportation options, she grew up commuting long distances by foot to get to her school.

“We had to walk three and a half hours every day before I could go to school,” she explained to the World Economic Forum. “He [Dapaah’s grandfather] later bought me a bike, so I finished senior high and wanted to go to university.”

The venture has also created an important source of employment in the economically developing city of Kumasi. Ghana Bamboo Bikes trains and employs men and women as professional craftsmen who harvest the bamboo, shave and sand down the raw material, assemble the bikes, and paint them. Some of the initiative’s 35 employees have disabilities and special needs. 

There were difficulties with the first prototypes of the bike that required some tweaks. But Dapaah’s enduring spirit helped her stay positive and continue growing her enterprise, despite the setbacks. “At the initial stage it was a bit difficult.., but we kept trying, day in and day out,” she told Al Jazeera in the video interview. “With perseverance, you can go far, she added.”

This incredible initiative has grown tremendously over the last decade, with bamboo bikes being purchased by buyers in Europe and the US. And since ten trees are planted with every purchase, the bamboo forests in Ghana are thriving as well!

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LAUREN MARCUS, CONTRIBUTOR
Fascinated by storytelling since childhood, Lauren is passionate about the written word. She’s a freelance writer who has covered everything from the latest developments in tech to geopolitics. When she’s not writing, Lauren is interested in genealogical research and family folklore.