by Nicole Paulus from reprojustice.com
A few weeks ago I signed up to volunteer with an organization called Bikeygees through a volunteer portal called vostel.de I was immediately attracted to the NGO because it’s all about female empowerment. The organization helps female refugees learn to ride a bike so that they can explore the city on their own. Because refugee shelters can be isolating and public transportation is expensive, bike riding is the perfect solution. And if the women attend several training sessions, and exude an interest, the organization will even give them a bike of their own.
When my designated volunteer day arrived, I hesitated. I was having terrible cramps, it was a bright, sunny day, and it was Sunday. I just wanted to relax. But something, I can’t explain what, was urging me to go.
The previous day, I had gone to the women’s march in Berlin and was brought to tears by the amount of people who came out to support the movement. Why was it so easy for me to go to a peaceful protest but when it came to actually working towards a change, it felt more like a chore, an infringement on my freedom?
I laid in bed and contemplated what to do. I reread the automatic email that was sent to volunteers, “please cancel at least one day in advance, otherwise you may let down some of the participants.”
Ok, that was it. I popped an ibuprofen and made my way to the meeting point. (And man oh man am I glad that I did.)
Here’s How It Works
The women sign up in advance to participate. Because this particular facility was badly organized, however, only two women showed up. That didn’t deter Anne, the organization’s leader. She took it upon herself to go around the shelter, knocking on doors, trying to get women to come outside to participate. She found one girl, probably in her 20s, in the hallway playing with her phone as well as a few others.
Now we could begin!
But wait, I felt awkward. All the other volunteers were seasoned and there wasn’t really a crash course on what to do. Instead, everyone seemed to just jump right in. After watching for a few minutes, Anne asked if I wanted to help one of the women. I said yes, but I was still a bit confused about what I should do. When I learned to ride a bike, I had training wheels. These bikes had no such thing!
Eventually I figured it out. I was on one side of the woman on the bike, and then there was another volunteer on the other side. I had one hand across her mid-back and one hand on her arm, offering her a sense of security as well as balance. Though she was unsteady and her feet kept slipping, she was determined.
And Then…She Was Off.
I was cheering her on in English while the other volunteer was encouraging her in German. We were all laughing our heads off as she picked up speed, thus making the volunteers have to run faster so that she wouldn’t fall. After about thirty minutes, she started to get the hang of it. I relaxed my hand on her shoulder even more, letting her know I was still there guiding her, but that she was actually the one in control. Her balance improved greatly and her speed increased exponentially. Before we knew it, she was making turns and going off the trail saying “me, crazy!!”
She Was Unstoppable
Afterwards, she hugged all the volunteers and kept saying vielen dank (thanks so much) over and over.
To think, if we hadn’t shown up that day, she would have been spent the afternoon playing on her phone in the hallway, lost in the another world. Instead, she got to experience some fresh air and learn how to ride a bike, a skill that will fill her with confidence and joy for years to come.
I love riding my bike so much that sometimes when the breeze is just right, and my earbuds are pumping out just the right song, I am even moved to tears while flying through the city. The fact that I could help someone else realize this simple joy, makes me so damn happy.
I encourage all of you to find an organization that resonates with you the same way that Bikeygees resonated with me.