I have a non-technical mind and am always impressed to see the results of human ingenuity at work. The ability of humans to both define a need and to create a gadget or machine that satisfies that need is exciting to witness. On my recent trip to Central America I came across an organization that recycles bicycle parts into useful and much needed alternative power machines.
On Tuesday evenings in Antigua, Guatemala a popular, laid-back restaurant called the Rainbow Cafe programs are presented by local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) involved in development projects in Guatemala. There is a modest voluntary charge to attend and the funds go to the NGO making the presentation. On my recent trip to Guatemala I attended a presentation there by an organization called Maya Pedal.
Founded in 1997 with the help of the Canadian organization PEDAL, Maya Pedal became a locally operated NGO in 2001. It has two major functions. One, it reconditions bicycles donated by Canadian and U.S. organizations which are sold locally and two, it uses donated bicycle parts to build energy efficient machines (Biomáquinas). I had no idea of the ability to use pedal-power as a means of generating alternative energy. Among the Biomáquinas Maya Pedal builds are blenders, water pumps, nut shellers, grinders, corn threshers and coffee de-pulpers. Machines under development include a bicycle washing machine, bicycle metal sharpener and bicycle electricity generator. The demonstration I witnessed at the Rainbow Cafe made a delicious smoothie with a bicycle blender machine.
Maya Pedal does use volunteers and has used over 8000 since its formation. They prefer volunteers who can commit to four months or longer but will accept volunteers for shorter periods when they have space available. Volunteers with experience are preferred but enthusiasm and commitment are also important attributes. Particularly helpful skills and experience include workshop engineering, cycle mechanics, sales and marketing, producing PDF instructions and translating.
Maya Pedal is located in the community of San Andres Itzapa which is about a 20 minute drive from Antigua, Guatemala. Volunteers stay in facilities on the premises and pay a small sum weekly (check with the organization for current fees) to cover utilities and internet. Volunteers are also responsible for buying their own food and cooking their own meals.
I spoke and corresponded with Emma Epstein, a volunteer from Washington State in the U.S., about her experiences with Maya Pedal. Following are her responses about Maya Pedal and volunteering:
John: How did you get involved with the organization?
Emma: I was involved in the bicycle advocacy movement in Seattle. I heard about Maya Pedal in Guatemala when I was planning my trip to Central America. I am enjoying my stay here and will probably stay longer than intended because of all the amazing things I am learning.
John: How many projects have you done to date?
Emma: I have built bike stand trays, built up a personal bike from scratch, fixed a bicilquadora (mostly used to make shampoo or smoothies). We built a walking stick made out of old bike parts and candle holders made out of cogs.
John: What are the most common/popular uses for pedal-power in Guatemala?
1.To make shampoo (biciliquadora) for a women’s collective
2. Corn grinder and shucker (bicidesgranadora and bicimolino)
3. Bicycle water pump (bicibomba)
Maya Pedal provides training workshops for local NGOs who are interested in establishing pedal-power technology in their communities. They also work with and/or are supported by an impressive list of international institutions and organizations.