Thursday September 24, 2015
Paul Demers and Joanne Heidkamp always know how they will spend the weekend of their wedding anniversary. Every September since 1999 they have helped to organize a collection of bikes and sewing machines to help people in the developing world work their way to a better life. The South Burlington couple is part of Pedals for Progress, which ships the collected bikes and sewing machines to partner-organizations in the developing world. Since 1999, more than 3,000 bikes and 50 sewing machines from Vermont have been sent to self-help projects in El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Uganda, Moldova, and Vietnam.
“There are hundreds of old bikes and sewing machines in this community that are just collecting dust,” says Heidkamp. “When you donate these items, they are transformed into a lifeline for someone who is struggling just to survive. Bikes are environmentally sustainable transportation to get to a job or to school; sewing machines allow someone to learn skills and start a small business. It is just amazing how people’s lives are changed by this simple technology.”
This year’s Pedals for Progress collection, a project of the Green Mountain Returned Peace Corps Volunteers, will be Saturday, September 26 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Faith United Methodist Church, 899 Dorset Street. Bring a used bike or sewing machine along with a $10 donation to help cover shipping expenses. A receipt for tax purposes is provided for the full value of the donation.
“The stories of how these bikes and sewing machines make an impact is what keeps us coming back year after year,” says Demers. “A high school teacher in Moldova asked for sewing machines to provide skills and employment for her students. Jobs are scarce in Moldova, and many young women seek work in Romania or Italy, where they often end up as victims of human trafficking networks. By setting up a little sewing business, she’s offering these young women a dignified alternative.”
“Another project beneficiary we just learned about is a 12 year old boy in Guatemala named Abner, says Demers. “ He wants to get an education but his single mother can’t afford the fees for books and a uniforms. With a bike donated by Pedals for Progress, this young man is able to get to the city park in the evening, and shine shoes. His earnings are keeping him and his younger brother in school. Every single item that is donated offers hope and opportunity to an individual, a family, a community.”
The group will accept any bike that can be repaired, even if the tires are flat, the seat is torn, or the chain is slipped. “The only thing we can’t handle is a broken frame or deep rust,” says Demers. “Anything else can be fixed, and these bikes will be on the road for the next twenty years, helping families in need put food on the table.” Sewing machines should be in working condition, and can be portable or table models.
Regarding Demers and Heidkamp’s anniversary, they report collecting bikes and sewing machines as a rewarding way to spend the day. “By the end of the collection we’re usually too tired to go out for dinner, but we are left with a great sense of satisfaction and a warm feeling of connection to the local and the global community.”
For more information, or to volunteer, call Joanne Heidkamp at 802-238-5414 or visit the group’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/p4pVermont.