19.06.2017 - Social and Human Sciences Sector

For refugees, it’s more than just a bike

“When I was at university, I volunteered as a mentor to Adam. Adam was a young asylum seeker from Darfur who had applied to remain in the UK. It didn’t take long for me to notice the problems that his lack of mobility caused so when my brother gave me an old bike, I refurbished it and gave it to him,” said Jem Stein, the young founder and creator of The Bike Project.

“It made such a huge difference to his life that when I graduated, I started collecting bikes, doing them up in my spare time and giving them away to other refugees and asylum seekers.”

The idea became so successful that four years ago, Jem transformed it into a full-time social initiative, operating out of a workshop in South East London.   
“Asylum-seekers come to this country with nothing and many have faced persecution and torture in their country of origin. When they arrive, they are prevented from finding employment and are given a tiny stipend to live on.

London is a city that is so rich in opportunities but finding them can be challenging and this is where a bike can make all the difference – enabling people to access charities that provide food, lawyers that can help with asylum applications, Home Office appointments, healthcare, education and so much more.

Refugee women, in particular often have little experience of cycling as it may not be encouraged in their home country. So we also run a women-only project, where they can learn to ride in a warm, supportive environment.”

But it is not just bikes that The Bike Project provides (although they donated around 1,000 of them last year), but a sense of confidence and independence. “What’s nice is that a lot of people who come to the Project for a free bike end up making new friends and then returning to volunteer. It’s great to be in the workshop on Thursday evenings when it’s buzzing with conversation, as people from Eritrea, Afghanistan, London and Guinea-Bissau get acquainted over grease and a toolbox!”

UNESCO’s work with youth across all its programmes aims to empower young women and men, like Jem, with the skills they need as actors and leaders of social initiatives in their communities.

“When I started The Bike Project, I had no idea quite how much it would dominate my life,” said Jem. “But I’ve grown a huge amount in terms of confidence and skills in every way and more importantly, the Project continues to go from strength to strength.”

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