By Annemarie Mannion, Chicago Tribune reporter
10:16 am, February 6, 2013
Source: Chicago Tribune
Twenty one years ago Dave Gorman, assistant public works director of the village of Lombard, completed a three-year stint in the Peace Corps in the Kingdom of Lesotho, a small, mountainous country in southern Africa.
While there, he used his skills as a civil engineer for such utilitarian needs as building water systems, bridges and schools. Now he’s returning to bring something that’s not only functional, but fun too — bikes.
Five hundred bikes were delivered to Lesotho in 2012, thanks to the organization Gorman founded, Bikes for Lesotho. The non-profit raised $20,000 in three months for the first shipment, and is raising money again this year to send another 500 bikes.
Gorman also plans to travel to Lesotho in July and bike 350 miles across the country. He, and his friend Jeff Teppema, of LaGrange Park, will stop along the way at schools to show children their bikes, and how to ride them.
“Many of these kids have never seen a bike,” Gorman said. “We’ll create a buzz around bikes.”
Gorman said the emphasis on the fun of cycling is because so many of the country’s children have felt the impact of HIV/AIDS. He said it is estimated that 100,000 children in Lesotho have been orphaned by the epidemic.
Gorman came up with the idea to donate bikes to the country he loves when he returned for a visit in 2010. He noticed that some major roads, which had been dirt when he served in the Peace Corps, had been paved.
With the infrastructure in place, he realized it was now possible for people to bike to where they might need to go. He also became aware that a non-profit called the Lesotho Cycling Association had been created by a few cyclists near the capital city of Maseru to promote cycling.
The group had just received its first shipment of bikes from Mike’s Bikes Africa Foundation, a non-profit in San Rafael, Calif., that collects and rehabs bikes to donate to developing countries.
Gorman contacted both organizations and discovered he could help their efforts by raising money to collect, repair and ship bikes to the country.
Gorman, secretary of the Kiwanis Club of Lombard, said the group has raised money through grants from individuals and service clubs like the Kiwanis, and Rotary and Lions clubs. Donations have ranged from $20 to $1,000.
Asking people to donate money to bring bikes to kids is usually not a hard sell, he said, because so many Americans associate bikes with allowing them their first taste of independence when they were young.
“Everyone knows what a joy it is to have a bike and what freedom it provides,” Gorman said.
Teppema, who teaches orchestra at Park Junior High in La Grange, was friends with Gorman through their common interest in cycling. He got involved in Bikes for Lesotho because he had visited Kenya as a teenager and said the experience changed his world view.
“Imagine a suburban kid seeing real African villages,” he said. “It wasn’t Disney World and a Serengeti village where everyone looks like us. There was a beauty and dignity there that captured me.”
When they bike across Lesotho this summer, the men say they plan to cover an average of 50 miles a day. Because it will be winter, they expect there may be snow and other challenges. The peaks in the country’s mountainous region are up to a mile and a half high, Gorman said.
Despite such rigors, they are looking forward to the trip, which they are paying for out of their own pockets.
“I’ve always been a bit of an adventure junkie,” said Gorman. “While in the Peace Corps, I made a raft out of inner tubes, two-by-fours and a tarp and talked a friend into floating three days down the Senqu River, across the south of the country.”
They are looking forward to the adventure, but Gorman and Teppema said the larger goal is to introduce children to a mode of travel that changed their own lives, and which they believe can transform the lives of others, especially children who’ve been affected by AIDS and HIV.
Teppema said many of the orphaned children have nothing they can call their own.
“I strongly feel that they could use some good news,” said Teppema. “Part of it (a bike) is utility. But fun is a big part of it, and they can have something of their own.”