Photo: Matt Pierce Kim Wiley helping a student ride her new bike.
World Bike Relief
What: A nonprofit organization transforming individuals and their communities in Africa by donating bikes
Founded: In 2005 in response to the Indian Ocean tsunami
Impact: Compared to walking, bikes improve access to education, health care and economic opportunity by increasing carrying capacity and lowering commute times to and from schools, clinics and markets.
More info: worldbicyclerelief.org
The group has donated more than 137,000 bikes. The following is how each donation helps:
$25: provides a wheel set
$50: gives a mechanic tools
$134: provides a bike to a student, health care worker or entrepreneur
BUFORD -- January is a month Buford resident Kim Wiley will never forget. But May brought a chance to make some happier memories.
A little more than a week into this year, Wiley lost her mother. One week later, her brother-in-law, Bill Keith, died after suffering a heart attack.
But for Wiley and her sister, Pam Keith, the tragedies of those deaths have encouraged them to make a difference in the world, which led to that May journey.
After the January deaths, the pair set up a fund in Bill's name with World Bike Relief and have so far raised $45,000 for the nonprofit organization his company in Chicago set up. The organization designs, sources and manufactures rugged bicycles engineered specifically for rural African terrain and load requirements.
"Some kids don't go to school because they don't have the means of transportation," Wiley said.
It was the perfect charity for Bill Keith, an active cyclist and triathlete, who often rode his bike to work. He died from a heart attack after riding home from work on Jan. 17. Out of that sadness came Wiley's idea to honor Keith's life, an idea that led World Bike Relief to invite her to Zambia for a trip in May as part of a program called Africa Rides.
As a way of saying thanks, the nonprofit invited Wiley to the city of Lusaka, where a school was dedicated in Keith's honor. It also allowed Wiley and Pam Keith to see the operations firsthand. After what the sisters went through, they decided to go together.
"It was truly an amazing experience," Wiley said. "We were able to see how they lived and the challenges they faced on a daily basis."
The bicycles are used by students, health care workers and entrepreneurs in the rural African country to transport heavy loads long distances over rugged terrain. The bicycles also allow them to haul more goods over longer distances in less time, as long as it is strong and durable.
The design includes a durable ergonomic seat, heavy gauge steel tubing, heavy gauge spokes and rims, puncture-resistant long-wear tires, high-impact pedals, and weather-proof coaster brakes.
"These bikes are specifically built for these rural areas," Wiley said. "They are rust-resistant and easy to maintain. They're not like the ones you would find here."
But it's not just bikes that were delivered. To get in on the act, Wiley's family collected school supplies and soccer balls to deliver as well. The donations also went toward training two field mechanics to help keep the bikes in working shape.
"They don't have a lot there, so we wanted to do more," she said. "They were waiting over a year to receive the bikes. They were singing songs about how happy they were. It really was a great day."
The bikes were also delivered to health care workers so they can reach their patients.
"We got to see what all they have to go through," Wiley said. "In visiting with the workers and students, we saw they didn't have much. But they were thankful for what they have. They truly live a simple life.
"Here in the States, we don't know what they have to deal with. We don't know what it's like to have to walk 10 miles to school."
Wiley said she can see why her brother-in-law was so passionate about World Bike Relief.
"I didn't realize the impact they made until he passed away," she said. "I visited their corporate office one time in Chicago, but never truly understood all they did."
While it has been a tough year for the sisters, one thing that has come out of it is an even stronger bond between the siblings.
"Doing this with my sister has brought us much closer together," Wiley said of Pam Keith, who now resides in Orlando. "The people in Zambia told us that Bill's spirit lives on and that it was here with them. It's a moment we'll always have and be able to share."
But there's one thing that is sticking with the sisters as they think about visiting the school once again in the next year or two.
"They asked us to not forget about them," Wiley said. "There's still much needed at the school. There's only concrete floors and nothing on the walls. We won't forget that. We'll go back."