Changing Zambia One Bike at a Time

by Karla Shirvanian '10

Short-term missions can be a time of change, growth and maturing. For alumni Dustin McBride and Vaughn Spethmann, who both graduated from APU with international business degrees in 2007, a missions trip changed their lives.

McBride and Spethmann traveled to Zambia in summer of 2004 through APU. During the trip, they taught in schools, volunteered in local orphanages, and played on soccer teams. On his final day in the country, Spethmann borrowed a bike and went on a ride with a good friend, Benjamin. Spethmann could not overlook the state of the bicycles they were riding, which had cracked frames, bent rims, missing spokes, bent seats, and were covered in rust.

McBride and Spethmann returned to the U.S., but they never fully left Africa. They felt compelled to further help the people developing Zambikes, a for-profit organization the founders hope to make self-sustainable. By making it a self-sustainable business, they will then be able to leave it in the hands of the Zambian people once it is fully established in six or seven years. Zambikes is part of Acrifa (Africa backwards), an overarching company and nonprofit organization in the U.S. which hopes to grow and establish for profit businesses similar to Zambikes in neighboring African countries.

"Once Dustin and I saw the need in Zambia, we could not ignore it. If God gives you a vision, the ability and the means to do something that will save and change lives, you are crazy for not doing it," said Spethmann.

The average income of the people of Zambia is less than $2 (US) a day, but through strategic partnership with micro-finance institutions nationals can pay off a bicycle in 19-months and subsequently increase their disposable income by 40 percent.

"We did not want to just give away the bikes as handouts and further promote a dependency on foreign aid. Instead, we wanted to empower Zambians through two facets: employment and efficient transportation. So we started Acirfa in order to raise the necessary funds to start and support Zambikes in Zambia," said Spethmann. "Zambikes is a social business that not only builds bikes, but changes lives. Most of the members of the Zambikes team had previously been unemployed or living in dire situations. Now, they all have a unique story of how their lives have changed since receiving training and employment from Zambikes."

According to Spethmann, to date, more than 1,200 bicycles and 153 Zamcart and Zambulance bike trailers have been distributed. "Medical workers, teachers, entrepreneurs and others are able to do their jobs more efficiently and effectively with their Zambikes," he said.

Providing quality bikes as transportation benefits the people of Zambia in a number of ways, including offering employment by training people in assembling, welding, and fabrication. The program develops and empowers entrepreneurs by incorporating entrepreneurship training in the bicycle schools. The people receive freedom and mobility, increase their family income, and are able to have additional time with their families. Providing transportation to Bible school also increases opportunities for pastors to receive training and increase the effectiveness of their ministry, and also allows pastors to reach people in the bush who would otherwise not hear the Gospel.

The goal for the project is also more than a bicycle project; it is designed to spread the Gospel. Acirfa uses every interaction as a way to share the love of God through being intentional and reflecting God’s love in all they do. The employment ministry encourages workers during their work weeks at Zambikes and the Zambikes' Giving Ministry aims to contribute to other community project efforts.

"The team has been very intentional as they’ve moved forward with this ministry. Through Zambikes, they purchased a 17-acre parcel of land and multiple families now are earning wages through it, whether by maintaining the building or producing bicycles. It's powerful to hear how two guys are making a difference with something as simple as a bike," said Acirfa board member David Peck.

After a successful pilot project in 2008, Zambikes desires to manufacture more than 500 bicycle ambulances and cargo trailers this year. Zambikes is also expanding its shop. An assembly and caretaker’s home was recently constructed, and their next goal is to complete the Fabrication Shop and Community Center.

"Acirfa's vision is to start and support 10 social enterprises until they reach sustainability. Zambikes is the first project of Acirfa. Within the last year, Zambikes has doubled its bike distribution and developed a bicycle cargo and ambulance trailer project. With renowned bicycle engineer, Daryl Funk, Zambikes' goal is to further develop the trailer project and the recently piloted bamboo bicycle project. The long term goal is for Zambikes to be self-sustainable and fully Zambian operated," said Spethmann.