By Dave Wiggins
Moved by a passionate story from Malia Asfour, Jordan Tourism Board’s director for North America, a small group of travel professionals took a spark of inspiration and began the process of creating meaningful action during the Adventure Travel World Summit held in Anchorage, Alaska, last year. When this group gathered for dinner during the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) event, it came up with a plan to benefit impoverished rural communities in Jordan through the donation of used bicycles, the building of bike shops, and support for tour guide and bicycle business training.
At the table that night, inspired by Asfour’s narrative, were Keith Sproule, executive director of A&K Philanthropy; Dan Austin, founder of Austin Adventures and the non-profit Wheels of Change, which began donating bikes and operational skills to remote communities in Africa in 2010; and Muna Haddad, director of the Jordan-based social enterprise Baraka, whose mission is to support sustainable tourism while conserving and protecting cultural heritage and natural resources.
Once the fire was lit, this core group began to reach out to other tourism professionals for additional support and received commitments from World Nomads/Footprint Network, which stepped up and agreed to help provide funding along with Tourism Cares, which also committed to additional money to assist with the establishment of community bicycle enterprises. Additionally, USAID Jordan Local Enterprise Support Project was instrumental in helping make this project a reality.
The wheels then began to move fast. Four months after the plan was hatched in Alaska, the first large container containing 260 mountain bikes, spare parts, and tools organized by Wheels of Change departed Billings, Montana, bound for Feynan, Jordan. On 26 April 2017, the container was officially opened and the process of distribution and training began. Andy Austin and Corey Meyer, two Austin Adventures guides assigned to do much of the mechanical training, were present at the festivities along with Muna Haddad of Baraka, who was tasked to be the on-ground project manager. Haddad and her staff will work with the beneficiary communities, investing in setting up the shops, conducting training, overseeing facilities, and handling the logistics of ground transport into and around Jordan.
The plan is to establish two bike shops in Um Qais Village and Feynan. The shipping container will be repurposed as a bike rental and sales shop. Each shop established will include a bike tour component venture. So, in addition to the sale and repair of bikes at these shops, they will also be the starting point for local bike tours. Four individuals from Um Qais are currently being trained as tour guides, bringing new employment opportunities to the village.
A second container of 412 mountain bikes, spare parts, and wheels sent by A&K Philanthropy in partnership with Working Bikes in Chicago was shipped on 13 March 2017. It is scheduled to arrive on or about May 28 in Madaba, Jordan. A&K Philanthropy covered the expense of the container and shipment. Baraka will assist in establishing another bike shop venture in Madaba as well as a bike share program at Petra University, making it the first bicycle-friendly campus in Jordan.
“It’s beautiful to see an idea come to life,” Haddad posted on Facebook. “This is how we change the world, one idea at a time and a lot of hard work in between.”
Jordan is seeing an increasing interest in cycling according to its tourism board, but currently only the affluent can afford to own a bike. In rural areas bikes are very scarce, and access to them at an affordable price would bring increased mobility to the population. Bikes would facilitate more students getting to school, aid in creating more commerce between communities, offer better access to healthcare, and help create new skills and business opportunities.
Jordan is actively building partnerships with adventure travel companies, introducing new cycling itineraries, and mapping out adventurous bike trails nationwide. The country recently completed the Jordan Trail, a long-distance, multi-use trail in Jordan that runs the length of Jordan from Um Qais in the north to Aqaba in the south. It offers 40 days of uninterrupted hiking over more than 650 kilometers of trail, traveling through 52 villages and towns along the way.
This exciting new venture was showcased at the ATTA’s AdventureNEXT Near East event, which took place 15-17 May 2017. A&K Philanthropy’s Keith Sproule and others present the bike donation initiative at the conference and used it as a case study on how such strategic partnerships can successfully benefit grassroots development and tourism in countries such as Jordan.