Clearing the path for cycling in Africa

Posted by: Richie Tyler on 2018-05-16 12:48:15 +1000

By John Semwogerere, co-ordinator for the Boogaali Bike Project, based in Uganda. John is a former cyclist who was forced to give up cycling following a knee injury. A teacher by trade, he concentrates his passion for cycling by supporting the development of young riders.

It's 7:00am on a Saturday in Kampala. The sun is climbing from the horizon and weather is smiling upon the capital of Uganda.

I look through the window of the 14-passenger taxi that frequent the city. Outside, I see a group of riders cycling past the line of vehicles stuck in traffic.

"Where are these thugs going?" says one passenger to her companion.

I turn towards them. "Why are you referring to them as thugs?", I ask.

"Look at the way they are dressed" she responds. "In their dirty, torn clothing and old bicycles."

We finally catch up with the riders and I notice that several of the riders don't fit the woman's description. They're wearing a mismatching set of proper cycling kit.

Feeling bad I'd not done more to defend the riders against the woman on the taxi, I realised this as an opportunity. I leaped out of the car and managed to stop one of the riders.

"My name's Mike Kisegerwa" he explained. "We're going to a race not too far from here."

I jotted down the location of the race and promised him I would pass by. I went back home, and collected a few old cycling kits I had accumulated over time with my brother, Kasoma Noordin.

My brother is himself a cyclist and now a coach, and builder of bamboo bicycle frames. Together we went to the location of the race and met Mike and his friends.

We donated the few kits we had to each of the riders. Other riders noticed us and were eager for more kits. Sadly, we had no more to give.

Apealling for help

I couldn't shake the thought of these riders' dire need for cycling kit and their passion for the sport. I took it upon myself to search the internet for any people or firms or organizations that could help.

Soon, I came across the Africa Kit Appeal website. I emailed them hopefully and kept my fingers crossed for a positive response.

Just a few days later, I received a reply from Matt Brammeier and a friend of his, Regardt Botes. The good news was that a friend of theirs working in Nairobi, Kenya was coming back to Kenya from Britain and would bring some kit for us.

"Just give me the sizes of the riders." said Regardt.

A short time later I found myself travelling to Nairobi, Kenya, to meet Pat Rich, who handed the first ever shipment of kit from the Africa Kit Appeal to me.

The 12-hour journey back to Kampala seemed like days as I struggled to contain my excitement delivering the good news to the riders back home.

Deliveries from the Africa Kit Appeal are always warmly received.

Deliveries from the Africa Kit Appeal are always warmly received.

Home, sweet home

It's difficult to describe the jubilation of the young riders as they took delivery of a kit, considerately matched to their size.

Buoyed by the smiles and excitement, it was in that moment that my brother and I decided to form a cycling team: The Boogaali Cycling Team.

Riders racing in donated kits

Riders racing in kits donated through the appeal.

Kasoma became the coach of the team, and reached out to Craig Calfee, a famed American Bamboo bicycle builder for help. Mr Calfee, having come to Uganda, had met a few riders and passed on his priceless bike building skills.

"Cycling has turned me into what I am today," Kasoma is pround to say. "I wouldn't have met Craig if it weren't for cycling. It's given me the opportunity to travel to countries like Rwanda, Kenya and Burundi for races."

"My riders can now train happily in kit donated through the Africa Kit Appeal, and our dream is to have a team on bamboo bikes join the peloton at Tour of Rwanda," explains Kasoma, who's seen cycling change lives beyond his.

A team effort

Mike is a member of the team. The 21-year-old lost both his parents to HIV, leaving him to take care of his brother and sister.

Unable to finish school, he supported his family through odd jobs, saving enough money to buy a used single-speed bicycle.

He used this bike to join a bicycle taxi business, ferrying people and luggage across Kampala. In his spare time, he would take part in local races. It was on his way to one of those events that I'd leapt off the taxi and met him.

Little would I know that after that first meeting, I would find myself encouraging Kasoma to take Mike on as an apprentice in our bamboo bicycle project.

"My life has changed," Mike has told me, he can now take care of his family from the monthly salary he earns from Boogaali.

Alongside his teammates, Kasoma and Arafat Sekyanzi, Mike has traveled to participated in the 600-mile Ride for Hope around Lake Victoria, taking in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania.

Like Mike, Joseph Kibirige, 19, is a sprinter whose life has been transformed through cycling. Joseph, who loved cycling on an old MTB his mother had bought him, came to the project with a history of drug use and petty crimes.

After a period of counselling, and a long struggle he's stopped using drugs. He now works at the bamboo bicycle project and races for the team.

Joseph Kibirige racing in Kampala, Uganda

Riders are lucky to be surrounded by inspirational individuals, such as Hadijah Najjuko. A former ladies National Champion, Hadijah has represented Uganda in the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and India.

She is responsible for developing talented young women who might have a chance at cycling. She trains with them, and is involved with the daily management of the team.

"My dream is to manage the first all-women cycling team in Uganda," she said, acknowledging the role the Africa Kit Appeal has played in changing things.

"In the past, women in Uganda felt left out of cycling since it was difficult to find cycling kit. The appeal means, women now have a chance to ride without shame and I hope that in the future more women will join the sport."

Kits donated by Africa Kit Appeal have reached over 50 riders in Kampala region and is expading quickly into other parts of Uganda.

While we may not be able to provide race bikes to all riders, we relish the opportunity to support whoever has a bike with cycling kit.

The success of the Boogaali has raised hopes that we may one day be able to open the first ever cycling center in Uganda. A place where riders can develop the skills required to race at international level.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Africa Kit Appeal for the generous support. I would also like to thank all the riders, cycling teams and organizations who've donated their cycling kit through the Appeal.

Please keep those donations coming. Every kit makes a difference, and many more riders still need them around the world.

Wish to donate? Learn more here.

Clearing the path for cycling in Africa