Forty-three orphans in Kenya who used to walk an hour to and from school each day now complete the journey in half the time thanks to bikes they received with financial help from Glendale teen Sebouh Bazikian.
For about a year, Bazikian worked to raise about $5,000 to purchase 43 bikes through the organization World Bike Relief, which delivered the bikes in August to the children at the Machao Orphanage in Makueni County, located about 115 miles from the country’s capital of Nairobi.
Bazikian traveled to Makueni to watch the orphans receive the new bikes. Without training wheels, he helped the older kids learn how to ride, holding onto their backs as they found their balance.
As the teens at the orphanage gained enough confidence on the bikes, Bazikian watched them teach the youngest of the children, who are 6 years old, how to ride.
“That was probably one of my greatest experiences,” he said. “I felt I was like their parent teaching them how to ride a bike.”
The St. Francis High senior learned about the orphans’ hourlong walks to school and their need for better transportation after his mother, Frieda Bazikian, spoke with her friend and fellow Glendale resident Carolyn Rowley, who is the chief executive officer of a foundation that supports the Machao Orphanage.
Bazikian lightheartedly suggested donating bikes to the kids, and then the idea turned into a promise.
“You always have to keep a promise, especially to children who have absolutely nothing,” he said. “I wasn’t going to flake out.”
He used his blog, “Bikes 4 Orphans,” to solicit donations, and reached out to family and friends. He also secured a $1,000 grant through the Pollination Project organization.
When he traveled to Makueni with Rowley in August, he walked with the children to their school in a neighboring village on a road littered with trash that the wind carried from a landfill located just a few hundred feet from the orphanage.
“The walk was difficult, especially for 6- and 8-year-olds doing that walk. There were a decent amount of up-hills,” he added.
When the children took the same route on their new bikes, Bazikian said they went to and from the orphanage in 15 minutes. One teen rode his bike to work at a cellphone store.
Back in Glendale, Bazikian is continuing to raise money for bikes, and has secured 20 more for kids at the Daos Children Centre in Kenya, which educates orphans in the Mombasa region.
In August, the Glendale Noon Rotary Club pledged to donate about $3,800 to pay for 32 more bikes.
Bazikian plans to host a bike-a-thon as well as a hike-a-thon at the Glendale Sports Complex on Oct. 26, where participants can bike or hike the nearby trails and donate to the cause.
He is also encouraging other teens to roll up their sleeves to follow his theme of combining passion with charity.
“We don’t have to wait for adults to make a difference,” he said.
For more information, visit bikes4orphanages.blogspot.com.
Follow Kelly Corrigan on Twitter: @kellymcorrigan.