“Bicycles have long played a role in my life,” Leah Missbach Day wrote in 2011. “As a young woman, I rode one year-round before I had a car. But it was later in adulthood that the bicycle became more than a source of transportation for me. The bicycle began to truly shape the way I saw the world.”
And Missbach Day began to shape the lives of other women around the world — through the power of bicycles.
In the wake of the devastating Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004, Missbach Day and her husband, F.K. Day, founded the global non-profit World Bicycle Relief. In the two years following the disaster, WBR provided 24,000 bicycles to the residents of Sri Lanka, supplying a key resource to citizens in rebuilding their lives. In partnership with local aid organizations, World Bicycle Relief shifted its efforts to Africa in 2006, providing 23,000 specially designed, locally assembled, rugged bicycles to healthcare workers treating HIV/AIDS patients. And they continued to expand their efforts.
To date, WBR has supplied more than 100,000 bicycles through programs in Kenya, Mozambique, South Africa, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
As history has shown here in the United States, bicycles can play a huge role in women’s empowerment. As Missbach Day has seen in her work, that’s especially true in developing countries. “When addressing global development challenges, a single-speed bicycle can improve the dignity and quality of life for women,” she says. “Entrepreneurs can get their goods to market; mothers gain access to life-saving medical clinics; girls are able to attend — and stay in — school.”
In 2009, Mary Lewanika was the first student in Zambia to receive a WBR bicycle. Immediately, Lewanika felt safer traveling to school. Because it cut her journey from an hour walk to a 20-minute ride, she was able to finish her morning chores, get to school on time and arrive with the energy to fully participate in her studies. Without a bicycle, Lewanika told Missbach Day, she wouldn’t have made it to the eighth grade. Now she aspires to be a doctor.
Such stories are common in her inspiring work — and Missbach Day will share some of those voices and (her stunning documentary photography) in her keynote address at the National Women’s Bicycling Summit.
“I’m thrilled to be joining the Women’s Bicycling Summit as an artist, a humanitarian working to transform individuals and their communities through the power of bicycles and, of course, as a bike rider,” she says. “This is the first year I’ve been confident commuting on Chicago’s city streets, including taking our six-year-old to school and camp. The artist and humanitarian work came naturally. The turning point for urban commuting? A one-day women’s cycling clinic. All I needed were a few lessons to build that last piece of confidence! I’ll be excited to learn what motivates the women who attend because I imagine we all have this belief in common: With passion and a little practice it is never too late to learn new moves. See you September 13th!”
Register for the National Women’s Bicycling Summit here.
Carolyn SzczepanskiCarolyn joined the League in March 2012, after two years at the Alliance for Biking & Walking. In addition to managing the League's blog, magazine and other communications, Carolyn organized the first National Women's Bicycling Summit and launched the League's newest program: Women Bike. Before she crossed over to advocacy, she was a professional journalist for nearly 10 years.