By Michael YEGHIAYAN
People living in Los Angeles may bemoan their daily commute through the city’s notoriously stagnant traffic. Compared to the injustice uncovered by local resident Sebouh Bazikian, a teenager who helped provide 43 bicycles for a group of Kenyan orphans who made a daily two-hour walk to school, the tragedy of the 405 Freeway seems to pale in comparison.
Bikes 4 Orphans is a nonprofit organization founded by Bazikian in the summer of 2012 after he learned of the difficulty many children in Kenya face as they attempt to make their way to school without any form of transportation. As part of a group of avid cyclists, Bazikian, 17, was joined by his brother Shawnt and friends Alex Charghchian and Sean Bird in a fundraising mission to provide bicycles for the 43 children in Makueni’s Machao Orphanage.
The group’s beginnings stem from a conversation between Bazikian and Dr. Carolyn Rowley, the director of the Machao Orphanage. He learned of the children’s struggle to get to school, and vowed to provide the orphanage with the bicycles they needed.
“I knew that there was no going back and that I had to do everything in my power to keep my promise,” explained Bazikian. “We made a promise and you have to keep your promises. I had to man up. It was a serious promise that I made and I wasn’t going to let 43 kids down.”
In order to provide the bikes, Bazikian calculated that his organization would have to raise $4,300. Their efforts proved difficult at first as many doubted the legitimacy and commitment of a group of students barely old enough to attend an R-rated movie, but their dedication eventually began to bear fruit.
Bikes 4 Orphans was selected for a grant from The Pollination Project, a nonprofit organization that offers $1,000 in daily donations for worthy causes that look to “expand compassion in the world.” As the group neared its fundraising goal, the contributions followed. By the time Bazikian was ready to deliver the bikes to Kenya, the group amassed $6,300, exceeding their target by $2,000.
Bazikian did not expect his program to achieve its level of impact, but feels his success speaks to a person’s potential to do good regardless of their age. Every child with a Bikes 4 Orphans bicycle is a testament to “what teenagers are capable of.”
“As teenagers, we don’t have to wait for adults to make a change in the world or help people in need. I know for a fact that there are other teenagers making a small or large difference in the world,” said Bazikian. “And we want to encourage more teenagers to do their part in helping people in need by combining their passion with charity.”
Upon arriving in Kenya, Bazikian spoke to the children and introduced the bicycles he worked to provide. The bikes were gone almost immediately, as 43 extremely happy children went for their first collective ride.
“I did the two-hour walk with them, a bunch of 8 to 10 year olds. It was a big eye opener for me. Some were barefoot, there was glass everywhere,” recalled Bazikian. “The trash was ridiculous. A big landfill was near the orphanage, so they were constantly walking through the smoke from burning trash.
“We take it for granted here in the states, but that’s a daily part of their lives. They got to school in 15 minutes with the bikes, it was a huge improvement.”
In addition to school use, Bazikian learned that some of the orphans would also be able to use the bicycles as transportation to their jobs.
“It meant they are using the bikes to the fullest,” said Bazikian. “The biggest impact to me was talking to an 18-year-old named Elijah. He was unable to visit his relatives on foot because of the distance, but he was able to visit his family with the new bike.”
A number of other orphanages have taken notice of the burgeoning organization. Upon returning from Kenya, Bikes 4 Orphans have pledged to donate 20 bikes to the Daos Children Centre in Kenya and 11 bikes to a hospital in South Africa.
After their first success, organizers have hit the ground running to continue their mission. A combination bike-a-thon and hike-a-thon event has been scheduled on Oct. 26 at the Glendale Sports Complex.
For more information about Bikes 4 Orphans, visit the organization’s blog at www.bikes4orphanages.blogspot.com or find the group on Facebook at www.facebook.com/bikes4orphans.