Namibia: Cycling Fraternity in Mourning

THE Bicycling Empowerment Network Namibia (BENN) is mourning the death of a Canadian bicycle sponsor who has made an immense difference in the lives of Namibians.

Pat Montani, a Canadian telecoms entrepreneur from Whistler, in British Colombia, Canada, passed away on 23 April, leaving especially villagers in the north with fond memories. He was 71.

The initiator of the BENN, Michael Linke, recalls meeting Montani.

"Pat first emailed me in 2006, having discovered the BENN in a Google search for 'who needs bikes'. He was a keen cyclist, and explained he was looking for a way to apply his knowledge on building companies to make a difference in developing countries. He saw mobility as a key challenge.

"In later conversations between us in Canada and Namibia, via email, and through regular calls, he told me he had a desire to give his life meaning. This desire to make a difference resulted in the Bicycles for Humanity (B4H) project," Linke says.

Montani rounded up friends and family in his community, and shipped a container with donated bicycles to Namibia.

He also travelled to Namibia to learn more about what the network was trying to achieve, and what its challenges were.

By the end of 2006, the BENN had set up a container as a bicycle shop at the Okathitu village in the north.

Some bikes were donated to schoolchildren and healthcare workers, while the rest were sold locally to create jobs and fund the costs of importing and delivering more bicycles.

"Montani continued to mobilise bicycle donations through Canadian news and social media, and people from all over Canada got in touch with him to find out how they too could ship bicycles to Namibia.

"He was a great salesman who projected optimism. He readily convinced groups of friends, church groups, service clubs and cycling buddies to start mobilising to ship bicycles to Namibia under the B4H banner," Linke says.

Over the years B4H chapters and bicycle volunteerism spread to the United States, Australia and Europe, while the destinations for bicycles also started expanding to other African countries and beyond.

Linke says Namibia received about 60 000 shipments from many different organisations, with the majority coming from B4H chapters.

Although Montani later shifted his focus from bicycles to tourism projects, he always worked on equipping people in Africa with the tools to create a better life.

The first bicycle shop that was opened with his help at the Okathitu village has since branched out to brickmaking and solar energy products.

A second bike shop was opened by the project's enterprising manager, Hilya Ekandjo, at Outapi.

The BENN project was started in 2005, and donated bicycles are used for various services in the villages, including ambulance and education services, as well as recycling.

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