A second chance for everyone

By Federico Ocampo & Juan Cruz Gregorini of VOY EN BICI Argentina

Context

People are constantly busy, so a pause helps us to re-launch with greater clarity. The Covid-19 pandemic gave us an excellent opportunity to rethink our means of transport and our ways of life, and to consider healthier and more environmentally friendly practices, such as bike riding. Although bicycles have been around for more than 200 hundred years, they are more useful now than ever.

The bicycle is a magnificent tool with lots of benefits. It does not damage the environment, it has no carbon emissions, it mitigates our carbon footprint, it is good for health, it reduces childhood obesity, and it’s a quick way through a traffic jam, among other things. 

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The UN Transport investigations says the bicycle is a flexible and personal mode, allowing many people in low- and middle-income countries access to education, economic opportunities and healthcare services.

Whether because of the pandemic or high unemployment, in Argentina we witnessed a remarkable growth in the use of bicycles for transport and recreation. In addition, according to the Mobility and Road Safety Observatory of the City of Buenos Aires, the number of trips on individual transport (both motorised and non-motorised) increased about 27%, especially on bicycles, where the figures show an increase from 320,000 trips in 2019 to 405,000 in 2020.

The problem 

If a bicycle is used often it will suffer some wear or damage and need repair. The expansion of the bicycle as a means of transport brought with it an increase in the demand for workers in bicycle shops. The need for labour integration is crucial in every society, but without a doubt, one of the places where education and training is most needed is in prison.

The solution

At VOY EN BICI Argentina (I Ride a Bike Argentina) we believe in second chances, not only for second hand bikes, but also for those who have made bad choices in the past. So we decided to start the first bicycle repair workshop in prison in Argentina, where prisoners with a record of good behaviour have the opportunity to learn values, and the skills of bike repair.

Our two main objectives for this disruptive initiative are education and social integration. We encourage prisoners to make a change in their hearts and minds, so as to reduce the re-offending rate. 

We work in conjunction with the Penitentiary Services, with prisoners, NGO’s, the Provincial States, the justice system and prisoners’ families.

Our team

VOY EN BICI Argentina is a nonprofit organisation that encourages a socially sustainable solution to the mobility of low-income people through bicycles. The pandemic and the lockdowns imposed by governments have damaged the urban mobility of the poor.  So we decided to create a circular and sustainable project with bicycles  in order to encourage social inclusion, decarbonization and employment. We have built a solidarity bridge between individuals who had bicycles but did not use them, with the low-income people who required a means of transport. 

VOY EN BICI Argentina’s administration is headed by Julio Antuñano (president), Federico Ocampo (national coordinator) and Juan Cruz Gregorini (institutional affairs and strategic planning). The bicycle repair workshop in San Martín Prison is a result of the combined effort of Fundación Espartanos and VOY EN BICI Argentina. Fundación Espartanos is a nonprofit that encourages sport and inclusion in prisons.

The results

A workshop and a bike bank were set up in the prison, provided with simple tools. During the workshops, bicycles donated by the community are repaired and conditioned. Once repaired, they are taken to various bicycle banks in Argentina, where today they are used by people to go to work, to go to school, or for recreation. The first bicycle repair workshop has been set up and a small group of prisoners has been trained. We are pleased to report that one prisoner, who is now being released, will become an instructor in other units.

Future steps

The plan is to replicate this model in other prisons and to make instructional videos to train prisoners elsewhere, opening a consultation channel and promoting this education and labour reintegration initiative.