Forward Progress

July 24, 2009

Hoima Bike MkIWith the successful fabrication of our first Hoima-Bike, we have moved into testing, production, and marketing for the idea. The first bike taught us a great deal about design and the processes it takes to not only build the bike, but build it right. It has highlighted our biggest issue: how much money do we put into the bicycle? This is important because while we do not want to compromise in quality, the more money we put into the bicycle the further away from a low sale price we drift. If we cannot make this bicycle to compete with the extremely cheap Asian imports (sale price no higher than $110), then we are missing the very target group for whom the bicycle was designed.MkII Weld
Another large issue is that of components to fit out the frame. Standard western bicycle components are not available here in large quantities. The only other option is to turn to the Indian importers who produce and provide repair parts for the current bottom self bicycles here in Uganda. I believe the only answer is to find a way to import boxes of the parts from western companies like Ritchey and Shimano so we have not only steady supply, but a standard of components with which to design the bicycle around.
On the marketing side of things, we are in the middle of the 17th Annual Agriculture and Trade show here in Jinja. Among all the other services and products BSPW provides, we have a Hoima bike display and demonstration of welding.Hoima Bike Display The public has responded to the bicycle very well and it draws large crowds. We get constructive criticisms, commitments to purchasing the finished product, and lots of thumbs up! I have also made good connections with academics who I plan to set up meetings to pursue collaboration with university students here in Uganda who can help with structural testing and design input. This is extremely attractive to me as it encourages greater Ugandan participation in the design and implementation of a bicycle factory. It is my hope that they can take it over and make it their own.

East Africa Watersports

July 24, 2009

I have been occupying my free time here in Uganda between 4th of July barbeques, canoe and kayak outings on the Nile and Lake Victoria, and playing with the two little devils who lives with us known as Diana and Rafiki.Heavy D
We organized a American independence day party here at my house on Muvule Crescent. I hired my friend (and favorite chicken man) Collin to come to my house a bbq-cater for the party. The afternoon was complete with a mixed crowd of Ugandans, Europeans, Americans, and even a homemade badminton set!

I have found one of the best ways to enjoy the environment here in East Africa at a low cost is to rent a fisherman’s canoe for the day and go exploring. All you have to do is meet their income for the day (around 10,000 or $5) and the canoe is yours.Nile Dock While I have enjoyed this in Lake Bunyonyi in the south and Lake Kivu in Rwanda, it is something I can find myself doing on a lazy Sunday right here in Jinja. We go to just above the dam where we get a dugout or handmade canoe and paddle it up the Nile, past the source, and out into Victoria. Sometimes we even manage to catch a few fish!Lake Bunyonyi Island View

As many of you know, I am an aspiring whitewater kayaker. Last Saturday I got my chance to test myself on the Nile. The stretch of whitewater that runs 40 km north from where the Owen Falls Dam blocks the Nile is reputed as one of the great grade 5+ whitewater gems in the world. With rapids boasting such names as Rib Cage, Silverback, and The Bad Place, this stretch of water is even more sought after as they begin construction of a second dam 30 km down that will essentially flood out some of the best water.
I was able to secure a kayak to accompany one of the raft groups that my friends were in. We put in early on Saturday and I quickly realized I had not been in a kayak for over a year as we immediately dropped into one of the grade 5 pour-overs.Uganda 004 One good thing to remember about Nile whitewater is a big river moving fast. This means things are over relatively quickly. I ended up reminding myself of this fact several times throughout the day as I was being thrown around like a rag doll on a roller coaster. Does anyone have any Ibuprofen?

Hoima Bike

June 25, 2009

Since my return from Rwanda I have been dedicating all my time to working with the Bicycle Sponsorship Project Workshop ( on developing Jason Morris’s cargo bicycle design. While the start up was a little hectic, we are now in full swing.

I started by traveling to Kampala to gather the steel products and components we needed for the first round of production. While BSPW possesses a large supply of western bike components to be used for production, I had to buy a few of what is available here in Uganda for when production surpasses the available supplies at the office. I rounded up the supplies a needed and was glad to leave the overcrowded and dirty streets of Kampala. Needless to say, it was interesting fitting six, four meter steel tubing sections in a Ugandan mini-bus! A few jokes about the paradox of being a poor muzungu and needing to use public transportation to move my goods aided the spirit of my fellow riders.

Once I had safely transported the goods to BSPW’s workshop in Jinja, it was time to start production. We started by cutting all the piping to length and checking that the bottom bracket and fork we were planning to use were compatible with the tube size.Bars With the excitement of the new project, the fabrication staff and I dove head in to spot welding the pieces into formation. We quickly learned that haste was not the name of the game as we realized the need for accuracy and consistency in order to insure all the pieces fit together in the desired fashion, not to mention the thing is supposed to be able to ride in a strait line when it is complete!

Today we took apart our crooked frame and started a brainstorm on how we could create a stand/mold for our frame to insure accuracy. I have to admit, when I woke up this morning I felt a pang of despair as I knew what we were going to try and achieve and what we had to work with.Stand Fabrication To my immense pleasure it only took about 1 hour of the fabrication team and I standing, staring, and scratching for us to come together in unison and create a stand for our frame.Collaboration Our ingenuity flowed together and transcended varying technical knowledge and language barriers. Before lunch we had a solid stand and were all excited to tackle the frame next.
I was taken back with the work after lunch. The team seemed overjoyed at the opportunity to use their knowledge of metal fabrication to achieve something other then the repetitive doors and windows they spend all the days working on. By the time we the sun was setting, we had a finish welded frame. Angles were correct, measurements were met, smiles were cracked.


June 25, 2009

Following my program completion with FSD on May 23rd, I decided to take a vacation to Rwanda to see the country which has been so enchanting to me over the past few years. I traveled to Kigali to visit my friend Lama Mugabo,Lama the director of a Canadian-Rwandan NGO who I meet over a year ago while I was in school at WWU in Washington. Lama is the director Building Bridges with Rwanda ( and has recently relocated back to Rwanda from Vancouver, BC. He and his sister’s family showed me the utmost hospitality for the two weeks I stayed with them and I enjoyed helping Lama with the initiatives BBR was working on.

Lama took me around to the two communities BBR works in as well as the National University Rwanda (NUR) in the southern town of Butare. We worked to build a connection with NUR students and Canadian students traveling to Rwanda with BBR. We also worked to strengthen the work done by the COWEGA women’s weaving cooperative in Gashora, Bugesera.COWEGA These women work to remove the invasive water hyacinth plant that is strangling the watersheds of Rwanda. But it doesn’t stop there. Once the plans are removed, they are dried and the women weave them into amazingly well crafted textiles. Their slogan says it all: Environment + Economics.
Rwanda Kid
After two weeks of productive work with BBR I decided to take a vacation to the beautiful lake Kivu on the western border of Rwanda. I traveled to the town of Kibuye, a quite coastal town situated between a gorgeous aqua blue lake and contrasting deep green hills and islands. I instantly feel in love with Kibuye and spent the next five days basking in relaxation before heading north for Jinja.Kibuye


June 25, 2009

It has been quite a long time since I last checked in with my blog, but here we go!

The last I wrote here I was investigating a collaborative project between FABIO and the workshop BSPW here in Jinja. While in March this was looking optimistic, by the first of April it became clear that my time would best be spent by focusing on finishing up the Repair and maintenance workshop with FABIO through the end of my FSD internship on May 23. This allowed me to smooth out the wrinkles in my curriculum and establish the structure and target groups so FABIO could continue this valuable program after I have left them…in other word establishing the sustainability of the work.

During the month of April we established a workshop with a group of rural teenagers that had purchased bicycles to ease their transportation between home and their places of study just outside Kamuli, 60km north of Jinja. The group were quick and enthusiastic learners and were very appreciative of the skills that were being given to them. They received a tool kit and repair, maintenance, and financial instruction.

May proved to be a slow month for FABIO. Our director and administrative officer, were in Germany schmoozing with donors, our program officer was spread between Nairobi and Kampala on work, and we found our funding situation reflected the global economic meltdown. This provided me with ample time to assist with grants and other administrative tasks around FABIO’s office. On May 23rd I completed my internship with FSD and FABIO. I decided to finish at this time as it is more cost effective to be independent of FSD and it allowed me to pursue the production of Professor Morris’s Hoima Bike design at the Bicycle Sponsorship Project Workshop. I have remained close to the FABIO staff with plans to offer future support as well as maintained good friendships with the FSD Jinja staff who continue to be a valuable resource to my work and personal learning.

May also found me moving out of the Mutalya’s house in Bugembe, and into a house in Jinja town. While I didn’t like saying goodbye to the family I had become accustomed to, I found it exciting to be in town living in a house with people or similar ages and ambitions to myself. I now live with 7 other people in a large house in central Jinja. We have volunteers from the US, Germany, Canada, and Uganda. The atmosphere is like that of a family and we are never short of good times. I have been visiting the Mutalya’s about once a week for dinner in Bugembe and have enjoyed watching young Henry Benjamin begin to crawl and grow teeth.

With the successful completion of the Butagaya repair classes, the past week has found me investigating new target groups to take the workshop too along with pursuing a new project: building a better cargo bicycle design for Ugandans, by Ugandans. Over the past few months, I have been in contact with Western Washington University (WWU) industrial design professor Jason Morris. In 2007 Morris traveled to Hoima, Uganda along the western border on the shores of Lake Albert. There he collaborated with several members of the of local boda-boda association. With the input from the association members, Morris designed and fabricated a prototype to meet their needs. He successfully fabricated a prototype and brought it back to Hoima for review by the riders. When I talked with Professor Morris in December, he expressed interest in finding a way to produce the bicycle in Uganda, using Ugandan labor, for sale to the Ugandan market…enter me.

While FABIO lacks the fabrication workshop, there is another successful non-profit in Jinja working in non-motorized development that does have an extensive fabrication workshop. The Bicycle Sponsorship Project Workshop is a well established, long-running organization that has expressed interest in developing Morris’s design. It is my hope to begin producing these cargo bicycles for sale through BSPW and FABIO’s bicycle credit programs. It is high time some better technology is brought to Uganda in the bicycle realm.
While the going is slow, it looks promising. I have been in communication with Jason Morris in the states, as well as members of both the FABIO and BSPW team. It is my hope to be moving towards production of the first bicycle during the month of April. I will be writing grants during the rest of March to help the start up costs and will make sure to update the blog as soon as more concrete information forms. If anyone has any ideas or support, please get in contact with me.
For more reading on this you can check out:
You can also find video’s on You Tube that highlight the process. Search using “hoima bicycle,” and “Jason Morris.”

It has been a productive couple of weeks here in Uganda. I have been able to sink my teeth into my project further while also being able to travel and experience more of the country on the weekends. Starting on Monday February 23, my coworker Stephen and I began the implementation stage of a Bicycle Repair and Education Workshop to be carried out in the rural Butagaya community who purchases bicycles from FABIO through our Bicycle Credit Program. On Thursday February 26th Stephen and I navigated the 45 minute rural drive to the community field where we agreed to meet the women. As with every Butagaya visit, the women, adorned in their traditional Gomesi dresses, greeted us with utmost hospitality all. While the women were all very eager to learn, they requested that we condense the curriculum from 4 days to 2 days due to the fact that every afternoon the women were not attending to their farms they were loosing valuable production. Stephen and I quickly scribbled a revised lesson plan and proceeded to “roll with it.” The first day focused predominantly on maintenance techniques and identifying/naming the various parts of the bicycle. butagaya-trainingsThis was in essence the classroom portion of the training. The women were great pupils, actively participating with questions and taking detailed notes in the lecture books we provided. While Stephen instructed in Lusoga I observed, took photos, and chimed in with thoughts I had in English/ As the program facilitator I received a huge relief as Stephen began his lesson. I was well aware of his ability as a bicycle mechanic, but was not sure how he would be as a teacher. With a language barrier I also realized that any teaching I would be doing would be through him as well. My mind was quickly put to ease as Stephen artfully mixed instruction and discussion in a well organized presentation.
On Wednesday March 4th, we returned to Butagaya to conclude our instruction and present the women with the tool kits they were to receive. repair-training-002The second day was divided into two parts: hands on repair training and basic financial instruction. We had a great time as the women joked and jeered at each other taking turns dismantling and reassembling the bicycles. repair-training-009For the financial instruction I had prepared a basic form for the women to list out their monthly expenses, monthly income, and planned/desired purchases. I showed them how to calculate their profit by simply subtracting their expenses from their income and comparing it to their future purchases. While the women quickly absorbed the relatively easy information, I was amazed to see the profound surprise and gratitude they all displayed. Something so basic appeared to be completely foreign to many of the women but they quickly realized the value. They all agreed to chart their finances for a few months with the goal of retaining a larger number in the profit box then any of the other. Our instruction concluded with a discussion on how the women would use the tools and spread the knowledge they learned, and a collection of fees. The women contributed their 20% of the total cost for the tools and instruction. I had originally asked for only 10% and was impressed with their desire to contribute more as it reflected their commitment to the learning.
Overall the education sessions in Butagaya were a huge success. The women proved excellent students and I was able to finalize a solidified structure for both material and lesson plan so that the workshop can now be spread and taught in other communities. I have since though to incorporate a community teaching community aspect potentially bringing women from Butagaya to help instruct other communities. Work goes on…
On the recreational side of things, I was fortunate to visit both Sipi Falls on the beautiful Mt Elgon in eastern Uganda, and the Kasese district in far southwest of Uganda. The entire Jinja FSD community (6 interns, program director and 2 coordinators) packed our bags and headed for the Crows Nest Resort on the hillside of Mt Elgon on the 20th of February. sipi-falls-005This was the one-month retreat where we got to relax, hike the country side, view the huge waterfalls, and reflect and collaborate with our peers on the progress of our projects. On one of our hikes to the nearby Sipi falls, we acquired some local porters who demanded to carry our bags and agreed to be paid in tickles.sipi-falls-015 The weekend proved to be a great decompressor and allowed us to get out of Jinja and share ideas.
On the following weekend I got the chance I had been looking forward to since before I even knew I would be coming to Uganda. I was invited by my program director, Margaret, to travel with her home and visit the Kasese District, home of both the Queen Elizabeth National Park and the Rwenzori Mountains. kasese-031The QE park is one of the larger parks in east Africa and is home to many of the large African animals you imagine when you think of a safari. The Rwenzori mountains, or Mountains of the Moon if you asked Ptolemy, are the largest range of mountains with the only glaciers outside of Kilimanjaro and Mt Kenya. Their highest peaks are over 5000m and they are home to high alpine vegetation found nowhere else on earth.kasese-029
We left Jinja on Friday, February 27th in the morning and drove the 9 hours to Kasese. Understanding the price tag usually associated with safaris, and knowing I am pursing the life of a penniless dirt-surfer, Margaret hooked me up with Jennifer, a peer of hers in who works in Community Development and lives in the small town of Katwe.kasese-022 This was the loophole I was looking for. Katwe is a tiny town that is located inside the Queen Elizabeth Park but still maintains its municipality so you do not need to pay a park fee! I stayed at the local cheap hotel and was taken on my own private, free safari with Jennifer and her brother. In addition to visiting the local salt mines at one of the lakes,kasese-013 they showed me antelope, gazelle, warthogs, water buffalo, and hippos. Katwe is located on the shores of Lake Edward and the residents live in and among the many hippos inhabiting the shores.kasese-020 At night the hippos walk right down main street to get to their favorite grazing spots! An amazing experience overall.
I returned to Margaret’s home next to the mountains Sunday morning and spent the day hiking around the foothills of the Rwenzoris.kasese-006 While I could feel the presence of ominous peaks around me, I was informed that the only time you actually get to see the summits is a brief week in May when the cloud cover recedes. I guess I will have to go back!kasese-021