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Ghanaian man, church, send hundreds of bicycles to Africa

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
Photo courtesy of Abdul Manan

Students in Yendi, Ghana, line up with their new bicycles – and wearing new uniforms bought by Abdul Manan from bicycle sales.
Oct. 5, 2005

By Joseph F. DiPaolo and Suzy Keenan*

WAYNE, Pa. (UMNS) — Abdul Manan had a dream of collecting bicycles to take back to his ancestral village of Yendi in Ghana, on the west coast of Africa, to enable children to attend school.

Yendi’s own school burned down several years ago during ethnic violence, and the village lacked money to rebuild it. Most families lacked the resources to acquire bicycles to make the trip to the nearest functioning school, located eight to 15 miles mile away, depending on the location of the children’s homes or farms. Children, many without shoes and shirts, had to walk barefoot as far as 15 miles to school.

A student at Eastern University in Rosemont, Pa., Manan, 30, shared his dream one day with Stan Petty, a member of Wayne (Pa.) United Methodist Church. That led to sharing his dream with the entire congregation during worship one Sunday morning last spring.

“I felt so sad for the children,” Manan said. “I had a dream of helping my village, and I wasn’t able to do that until I came to the U.S. I believe this is a divine calling for me to step up and be able to do this.” Born to Muslim parents, Manan has an extended family that embraces Islam, Christianity and African faith traditions.

His dream inspired the Wayne congregation — along with Christ United Methodist Church of Lansdale, Synagogue Mishkan Shalom, community groups like the King of Prussia Rotary and the Upper Merion Girl Scout Troop #1326 — to partner with a host of local residents to embrace the project.

Working with Manan to spearhead the project was David Broida, Upper Merion’s parks and recreation director, with whom Manan has worked. Petty led the effort from Wayne Church. By June, nearly 500 bicycles were collected (most were used, but a number of new ones were donated by bike shops), as well as nearly $9,000 to cover the costs of shipping, ground transportation, insurance, storage and distribution.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
Photo courtesy of Abdul Manan

For people in many communities in Ghana and elsewhere in Africa, a bicycle is the only alternative to walking.
Petty organized a team to help load 400 bikes onto a container truck. Additional bikes were broken down into parts so more could be loaded into the container. “And I took about 30 bikes to a bicycle repair program in downtown Philadelphia for children who are deprived,” Manan said. “They learn bike repair and get these lessons for free. When they graduate, they get a free bike.”

The container was loaded onto a ship in New York, which left for Ghana on June 10 and arrived June 30 in the port city of Tema. Manan flew to Ghana to meet the shipment and spent more than a month there distributing the bikes to the neediest children.

“The problem goes way beyond basic transportation,” he said. “I felt so sad. Why would I give a kid a bike when he doesn’t even have shoes or a shirt? I would rather sell some bikes and provide children with school uniforms and shoes.” He sold about 60 of the bikes to purchase those supplies.

“The children did not believe they could ever afford to own a bicycle in their lifetime,” he said. “They were resigned that this is their life and it could not get better. Now I can really encourage little students to become responsible. With education, they could be better informed and their life could be better.”

His journey became an adventure, as he chased down people who stole bikes (he recovered most of them), worked through tangled bureaucracies and was nearly overwhelmed with the press of children who wanted a bike so they could once again attend school. He donated five bikes to a local police station that had no other means of transportation, and the police then provided him with protection and help. He also gave five bikes to a local Methodist church that helped him.

“I helped the people of Yendi to realize that they are being loved and cherished many miles away from the continent of Africa by the people of the United States, and to understand that the U.S. stands not just for war (in Iraq) but for peace.”

Manan said part of his calling is to help people in the United States understand and appreciate how much they have and how important it is to share that abundance with others in need.

Some 350 children in Ghana now have a new opportunity to learn and build a future, but Manan is not finished. He has a new dream of helping Yendi rebuild its local school, and he hopes to return there for the grand opening next summer. He plans to partner with the local Methodist church in Yendi to ensure that funds and resources are used as intended.

Churches or people interested in supporting Manan’s dream for the children of Ghana can call Wayne United Methodist Church at (610) 688-5650 for information.

*DiPaolo is pastor of Wayne (Pa.) United Methodist Church. Keenan is director of communications for the United Methodist Church’s Eastern Pennsylvania Annual Conference.

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