Imagine for a moment that you are driven from your home, your family, and your country because of militant political strife. With the help of the US government you are lifted out of a refuge camp and arrive in Dallas, Texas. You don’t know English, and you have no clue what’s next. That’s the reality of thousands of refugees every year.
But, a worker with the International Rescue Committee is there to greet you at the airport. She takes you to your family’s new apartment, helps you get all the paperwork in order, shows you where to shop for groceries, introduces you to the neighbors, and even helps you find a job to start supporting your family. This story happens every day all across the country, and the IRC is there to help make transition to Western life as trouble-free as possible.
Many of the IRC refugee clients rely on public transit to commute to work. Unfortunately, the Dallas transit system has limited hours and routes, and often has no service at the most critical times for IRC clients. This leaves many critical job opportunities out of reach. In response, IRC Dallas launched a pilot program to outfit clients with bicycles. REI and Spokes for Folks helped collect and refurbish donated bicycles, and then Richardson Bike Mart and CyclingSavvy DFW partnered to provide a portion of the CyclingSavvy workshop to the bike recipients.
Since the prospective students likely had little to no working knowledge of western roadways, Waco and I had a challenge ahead of us. These students have a critical need for safe cycling… they need it to get to and from their work when no other option is available! Fortunately, since much of the key components of CyclingSavvy is communicated through animations and videos, we were not worried about losing anything in translation.
Class day was a blast. Meeting the IRC clients and translators was a pleasure. Each one had a unique story and experience to share. One of the students had a great job that he loved, but he had to walk over an hour to get back home in the middle of the night.
Just like every time that we teach CyclingSavvy, I could see eyes light up as we showed animations of what safe, practical cycling really looks like. The translators were even stopping to ask questions of their own!
After the classroom material, we helped the students fit their bikes, pump up the tires, and mount lights. We went through the A-B-C-Quick Check, and then spent a bit of time showing them how to easily start and stop without falling over. Despite the heat, they were quite eager to take off and try out their new bikes!
Waco and I both had such a great time with this pilot program. We learned a few things from this opportunity and are looking forward to working with the IRC again in the future.
The IRC is always looking for volunteers and interns to welcome and assist refugees who are new to America. Take a moment to check out their website and see how you can help refugees living right in your own city.
A really BIG thanks to Richardson Bike Mart for providing funding so that this class could be provided at no charge to the students.