This week is Refugee Focus Week at Pakhuis de Zwijger, Amsterdam. Every day, we are publishing articles that highlight different migration focused initiatives that fall in line with the evening in-house programs that also focus on this theme.
Atop two wheels she swayed, fear succumbing to excitement and then pure joy as the volunteers let go. With a huge smile on her face, Shiraz at the age of 27, pedalled across the park by herself for the first time: free. Free to move about this new city on her new-found mode of transportation and free from the fear she had been surrounded by in Aleppo, Syria.
Acclimating to a new city has meant learning to ride a bike for Shiraz and the other women involved in the #BIKEYGEES project in Berlin. This volunteer organization started after Katie Griggs had been asked by several refugees if there was a place where they could learn to cycle. Unable to find any free programs, Griggs, herself a bicycle enthusiast, decided to get her other bike loving friends together to teach six women how to cycle. Since that first session in October of 2015, over 70 women from 10 different countries have learned to cycle through the #BIKEYGEE program.
Griggs says that she was just responding to a need when the project started out with co-founders Anne Seebach and Annette Krüger. Numerous volunteers have been involved in the project including women who learned how to cycle through the program and are now volunteering themselves, passing on the gift and joy of riding a bike. For newcomers to the city, cycling offers a free means of travel, independence, and a way to integrate and feel like a German in this city where over 70% of Berliners own a bike. Teaching refugee women how to cycle opens up doors to their new city, to meeting new people, to a new form of mobility and the ensuing freedom this brings. Griggs, who hopes that everyone that comes to Germany learns to cycle due its environmental, health, and societal benefits, believes that for the #BIKEYGEE women, “cycling is a lot of fun, it’s an achievement, it’s freedom.”
“cycling is a lot of fun, it’s an achievement, it’s freedom.”
Through the project, many friendships have developed between refugees and non-refugees. This, as Griggs pointed out, is one of the vital roles that small initiatives play: providing a network for newcomers to the city. Networks, like BIKEYGEES, help integrate the newcomers by connecting them with Berliners, creating a local support network that may help them find housing or a job as well as helping them to learn German. This project addresses urgent needs that newcomers to the City of Berlin face and brings and an overwhelming sense of accomplishment and joy to everyone involved.
You can support the #BIKEYGEES project through their crowdfuing campaign here. All donations go towards purchasing second hand bicycles, helmets, and locks for those who learned how to cycle with #BIKEGEES