Motorcycle enthusiast and adventurer Claire Elsdon, has managed to open a women’s motorcycle maintenance workshop in Mwanza, northern Tanzania, the first of its kind.
Achieving something never before attempted in the country, the newly launched social enterprise aims to provide motorcycle maintenance and road safety training to a community that was in dire need of it.
A Journey Begins
Elsdon had always been a keen motorcyclist, zipping around London on the back of a Triumph Tiger 800 XC for her daily commute. After packing in her job as a stockbroker, and becoming inspired by the biking adventures of Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman in the Long Way Round television series, she set out from London on a year long ride to Cape Town.
During her journey she took volunteer work in Malawi, working for the MicroLoan Foundation – which aims to educate and provide poverty stricken women in Africa with the opportunities to work and build a better future. Elsdon’s motorcycle know how came in handy, and she helped train loan officers on how to properly maintain their bikes.
A year later, her volunteer work continued, this time with the Motorcycle Outreach charity in Songea, southern Tanzania. Elsdon used her extensive knowledge once again to train local midwives on how to ride motorcycles, helping them to reach and care for those in rural areas.
Tanzania’s Safety Problem
Whilst visiting hospital wards dedicated to motorcycle crash victims in the area, Elsdon realised the full extent of the problems in the biking community.
There were many inherent issues with safety, such as Tanzania’s motorcycle taxis – whose riders would frequently wear no helmets, or shockingly wear them the wrong way round. Many poor serviced bikes and tyres would present accidents just waiting to happen, and the statistics told a harrowing story.
Then in 2013, injury rates among motorcyclists were as high as 63 out of every 100 riders in certain rural areas, mainly due to a complete lack of education in regards to keeping motorbikes running safely.
A Change Of Gear
After witnessing the problems first hand, Elsdon moved to Mwanza in April 2016, and with some local help managed to open a workshop in January the following year.
She decided to name the venture, Pikilily – deriving from the Swahili word for motorbike, pikipiki, and the lily flower, which Elsdon viewed as a symbol of female connection and partnership.
Noticing that there were no women working on bikes at all in Tanzania despite a few riders here and there, Elsdon wanted to staff the enterprise mainly with women apprentices, and give them the opportunity to provide effective safety training, and repair services to their community.
Riding towards a brighter future
The enterprise now provides successful training for riders all over the community, from taxi drivers to gold mine workers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ivory Coast and Mali.
As well as working in conjunction with local traffic officers to deliver huge training events, the workshop aims to provide maintenance training for college students, and educate passengers to better communicate with riders when they do something unsafe, like speeding.
The Tanzanian authorities are fully behind the enterprise and it has also formed a partnership with the country’s Vocational Education Training Authority.
The female apprentices are being taught how to maintain and ride their bikes, as well as receiving first aid and self-defence training. They will then go on to become motorbike ambulance drivers – transporting patients, especially labouring mothers in difficult areas, to hospital.
As Tanzania has no publicly available ambulance service, this scheme aims to save lives, and prevent pregnant mothers from having to risk theirs, being transported to hospital on the back of a motorcycle taxi with an untrained rider.
Thanks to the inspiration and dedication of Claire Elsdon, the Pikilily social enterprise is creating a safer future for the whole community, making motorcycles a part of the solution, instead of the problem.