Power of One: Connecting cultures through cycling
MONTREAL- With some bicycles and a lot of determination, a Senegalese immigrant in Montreal is propelling change in both Montreal and throughout Africa.
As director general of Velocaravane, Papa Amadou Toure has been teaching both immigrants and native-born Quebecers how to ride and fix bicycles for the past 18 months.
A daily cyclist, even through Montreal’s harsh winters, Toure sees the method of transportation as a way of connecting people that’s both inexpensive and environmentally friendly.
The group’s mission is to be a unifying source through cycling.
“(It’s) the bridge between people, who are from other countries and those people who are from here,” said Toure, a medical school graduate who has lived in Montreal since 2005.
The only cycling school in the city, Toure founded the non-profit organization as a simple way to give Montreal’s immigrants a chance to be a part of the city’s huge cycling culture.
“It is important for us to teach them how to cycle and to teach them the road safety,” he said.
Through donations – mostly from the Montreal police’s unclaimed stolen bicycles – Toure collects, fixes and sells the bikes to immigrants at $75, only $2.25 more than a monthly STM pass.
“They don’t have enough money to buy a bike, and in their neighbourhoods, they just don’t have shops for bikes,” he said, adding that locals have also hopped on Velocaravane, and make up half of his current clientele.
“You have options of bus, metro, subway, and I say, ‘Okay, I am able to sell you a bike at the same price,'” he said.
Mojgan Ebrahimi became a student of Toure’s because at 42 year old, she hadn’t been on a bicycle since she was 10, in her native Iran.
“With a bike, I can have more freedom to go different places, to the park,” she said. “There are some courses for driving or things like that, but for riding, it’s nice to have some kind of course to help people.”
Toure’s star student learned to balance on two wheels.
“She will be able today to go back home with her own bike… so Mojgan is one of my best students,” said Toure with a laugh.
Toure’s goals span beyond Montreal, however, and are as vast as the continent of Africa.
He is spearheading the longest ever bicycle trek through 45 countries and over 35,000 kilometres. The goals are to encourage young people on the continent to look at their surroundings with fresh eyes, and inspire pride in the continent’s potential to spur positive changes.
“It’s not only words, it will be action (for) four years.”