Giving Like Grown-Ups

11.7.2012 | 9:21 pm

A Note from Fatty: For the next little while, I’m going to be alternating between talking about prizes for the giant WBR fundraiser I started earlier this week, and telling stories from my trip to Zambia last Summer. Today’s a story day, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get familiar with the contest and donate.

Today I want to tell you a really heartwarming story about one of my favorite moments from our trip to Zambia last Summer.

The best part of the story is the video, which you absolutely must watch, all the way to the end. It makes me laugh with joy — and yes, I chose the word “joy” after thinking pretty carefully about it — every time I watch it.

But I have to warn you: the point I’ll be making with this story is quite a bit different than the one you might be expecting me to make.

Finding Something to Do

One of the risks we took in having a couple of 16-year-old kids come with us to Zambia was that we knew that neither of these kids really care about bikes at all.

As the trip progressed, that changed. Like everyone with us, they got a real sense of how much of a difference a bike can make in a person’s life.

That said, their tolerance for all things bicycle-related did have its limits.

And so it was that, on one day, while the bike-obsessed among us watched with admiration as a WBR-trained bike field mechanic worked on someone’s broken bike, Melisa (aka The Swimmer) became bored.

Really bored.

So bored that she wandered over to where a bunch of kids were playing soccer with their homemade soccer ball, and joined in.


The kids were pretty amazed, frankly, for a few reasons.


First, because it was pretty much as unusual for a blonde white teenage girl to be playing soccer with them them as it would be for a martian to be playing soccer with them.

Second, because girls in Zambia don’t play soccer at all.

And third, because Melisa is really, really good at soccer.

A Good Idea

The field mechanic had finished his work, but we were all still hanging around, just enjoying the day and watching the show. Melisa had a great game going on with the increasingly large crowd of kids (word had spread).

And that’s when Melisa had a brilliant idea.

“Mom,” she asked The Hammer, “do we have any soccer balls left we can give away?” (We had brougth six soccer balls with us, courtesy of a co-worker of The Hammer and Rod at the local Rotary Club.)

“We do have one left, yes,” I replied. “But we had plans to . . .”

“I can’t think of anyone better to give this ball to than these kids,” The Hammer said.

“I totally agree,” I agreed.

I Love This Video

Melisa ran and grabbed the ball, and started pumping it up to give to the kids. A crowd drew around. Hushed. Hoping.

And you’ve got to see what happens next:

My Grand Plan

This gave me such a boost the whole rest of the day, having seen so many kids so happy over such a small thing.

And it got me to thinking: I should start working to get a steady supply of soccer balls to Zambia.

So at dinner that night, I talked with F.K. Day, the CEO of World Bicycle Relief. “I’d like to find a way to start bringing a bunch of soccer balls out here,” I said. “They’re not expensive, and they make the kids so happy.”

F.K. smiled. “Yeah, it was a lot of fun seeing those kids go nuts over that soccer ball,” he said. “In fact, it’s really tempting to just give people here all kinds of things.”

“But it’s not the way WBR works,” F.K. continued. “There used to be a textile industry in Zambia, which was completely destroyed when western countries started dumping boatload after boatload of free clothes on the country. The fabric industry here couldn’t compete with free, and people lost their jobs.”

“We have to be very careful with our giving here,” F.K. said. “When we give a child a bike, she signs a contract to maintain it, to keep going to school. There are responsibilities and consequences that come with the bike.”

“And above all,” F.K. said, “We give them tools they can use to make their own lives better.”

And I suddenly got it. “They need us to help them get started. They don’t need us to be Santa Claus.”

“Yeah. And we’ve been thinking about who to focus on when we give bikes away, and have found that girls are the ones who, when their life is improved, take that improvement and bring it back to their families and community.”

“And we make sure the community gets seriously involved with which specific kids get bikes. Community leaders weigh who lives furthest from schools and has the greatest need.

“Even the big ceremony is a serious part of our program,” F.K. told me. “Everyone in the area sees these kids getting these bikes, and they know it’s a big deal; they’ve been entrusted with something important and special. They know the bike isn’t something to be taken lightly.”

Giving Like Grown-Ups

I’ve thought about that conversation a lot since then. And while I’ve always liked the romance of the idea behind World Bicycle Relief — giving bikes to people who desperately need them just sounds noble — I now really like the fact that WBR handles their charity like grownups.

They’re doing good in the world, but they’re not merely doing it from the gut. They’re using their brains, too. They’re resisting the temptation to do what I would probably do if I ran a charity: just give stuff away because it feels good and it’s easy to do. Which, in the end, is more likely to harm and create dependency than it is to help.

They’re working in such a way that every bike they give has the best chance possible of winding up in the right person’s hands, and doing the most good. That your $134 doesn’t just buy a bike for someone in Africa, but for the right someone, who has made a serious commitment to honor your gift.

It’s fun to play Santa Claus. Hey, there’s an element of Santa Clausery in every fundraiser I do, including this one (speaking of which, maybe now would be a great time to donate).

But I’m glad that’s not WBR’s business model.


  1. Comment by Mark J. in Dallas | 11.8.2012 | 8:45 am

    Must have gotten something in my eye…darn it.

    That Melisa is a sweetheart and she has her mother’s smile. Good stuff.

  2. Comment by Maggi | 11.8.2012 | 8:56 am

    What a great story and video– thank you for sharing the more thoughtful side of this process. Giving is easy, prizes are cool, but it’s good to know how much careful thought, preparation and planning goes into this whole thing.

  3. Comment by Tom S. | 11.8.2012 | 9:06 am

    WBR does things right, so do you Fatty!

  4. Comment by Matt Morley | 11.8.2012 | 9:28 am

    Hi Fatty,

    I live in Lusaka, Zambia and have read your blog regularly since i started cycling to lose some weight and lost my mother to a brain tumour, in fact I ride in an Twin Six shirt FC shirt on some of the awesome single track we have around here!

    One option for your soccer balls idea could be the local company Alive and Kicking:

    They make balls in Zambia employing Zambians and can do any type of design, messages, logos etc. Ultimately it might still be just giving but you can use it to communicate messages as part of a wider process and to stimulate interest.

    Anyway, check the website, one of the sales guys is a mate of mine and I can put you in touch directly.


  5. Comment by Matt Morley | 11.8.2012 | 9:49 am

    Sorry, that link was to another site – a totally unrelated story!

    Alive and kicking here:

  6. Comment by MattC | 11.8.2012 | 9:55 am

    Wow…that was awesome! I have a HUGE smile on my face after just watching it…I can’t imagine how you all must have felt…it was like a vacuum suckd all the kids out to the soccer field…they were SO excited! I’d think bringing about 2 dozen soccer balls next time you go would still be a cool thing to do…

  7. Comment by Kim | 11.8.2012 | 10:09 am

    There’s also the excellent charity: Right to Play:

    “Right To Play is a global organization that uses the transformative power of play – playing sports, playing games – to educate and empower children facing adversity.”

  8. Comment by davidh-marin,ca | 11.8.2012 | 10:10 am

    Like MarkJ in Dallas whatever he got in his eye was in the air here too!

    Comgratulaons to The Swimmer!! That will be a memory for a lifetime.

  9. Comment by Jeff Bike | 11.8.2012 | 10:17 am

    Fatty and Matt Morley
    I think you have hit on the solution. Buy the foot balls from local manufacture employing local labor. Good idea if they can be produced at a cost and quality equal to international suppliers. Help the local business and the local economy.
    I was then thinking would it be possible to find a local supplier of the bikes? I know that’s a very hard requirement. Buying a bike for $134 any place is unbelievable.

    I’ll be talking about the bikes — what they’re like, where they’re built, etc. — soon. That’s an interesting story, too. – FC

  10. Comment by Elizabeth | 11.8.2012 | 10:29 am

    That is the most moving video!!
    I’m going to show my High School students today. I teach a “Justice” unit and this fits in perfectly.

    Excellent! I’d be interested to hear what their impressions are. – FC

  11. Comment by NYCCarlos | 11.8.2012 | 10:56 am

    You guys are freaking fantastic. I’ll be donating soon :) Hopefully with a match from my lovely corporate overlord… er… employer.

  12. Comment by Matt Morley | 11.8.2012 | 10:57 am

    Jeff Bike – Google Zambikes… Started by a couple of American lads. The yellow bikes are hugely popular here and include ambulances and all sorts but the Bamboo bikes are very cool and sell all over the world… The yellow bikes retail at about 850000 of our Kwacha, approx 170 USD.

  13. Comment by Iain | 11.8.2012 | 11:19 am

    Matt’s idea is great! It spreads some fun and joy while driving local economy and labor. I have a couple of concerns though, and so far I’ve not been clever enough to come up with answers for them–maybe someone else can?

    It appears to me that the soccer-ball idea spreads happiness but doesn’t _empower_ the recipients. So I’m wondering how we could take the idea one step further so that the recipients get some self-empowerment. Or is it sufficient that A&K is empowering their employees and in turn employees at the businesses at which they spend their earnings?

  14. Comment by Jenni | 11.8.2012 | 11:48 am

    Anyone else half expecting a lion to appear out of the brush and steal the ball? Just me?

  15. Comment by Liz//Tipping Point Photography | 11.8.2012 | 12:56 pm

    Thanks for sharing this video! My husband and I just returned from the Africa Rides October trip. Your description of WBR’s business model–a handup, not a handout–is spot on. And that is the brilliance of it.

    Have you read Dead Aid? I just started digging into it. A very worthwhile read to help understand the larger forces behind the poverty in Africa.

    My biggest insight post-trip, in a very condensed format:

    America defines success in a very materialistic and monetary way. Success is obtained through hard work. Therefore, if you don’t have enough stuff (a nice home, a car, running water, electricity, etc.) or money, you must not be working hard enough. Therefore, you must be lazy, stupid, or both.

    On the contrary: we met and observed some of the most hard-working and resourceful and HAPPY people I’ve ever had the privilege of meeting. Hell, they have to work hard just to get the water they need to make their breakfast every day. What they need, as FK so clearly articulated, is access to the right tool or resource that will lessen the burden of daily living and/or increase their earning potential. If we are truly committed to helping on a human-to-human level, we should take the time to clearly identify the tools that are most needed within the appropriate cultural context, and provide them in a way that communicates respect, value and dignity above all else.

    Thanks so much for taking the time to spread the word about this amazing organization. We have been involved with WBR since they launched, and of all of the organizations we support, it’s the one we are most passionate about.

  16. Comment by Liz//Tipping Point Photography | 11.8.2012 | 1:01 pm

    Oh, and I should add that we played an impromptu game of soccer with the students on our school visit day. It was Africa Riders vs. the school’s team! They even put their jerseys on. Two of us ladies were playing in our chitenges. That attracted quite a bit of attention. :-)

  17. Comment by AKChick55 | 11.8.2012 | 1:02 pm

    Wow. Way to make me tear up at work, Fatty. :) That video was amazing. I’m so humbled by it. Really makes you think about what is important in life.

    I have to admit that I’m like you and I would do the same exact thing if I had a charity. How wonderful WBR is for doing what they do and handling it like grown-ups. Makes me respect their organization even more.

    This is such a wonderful contest and a very thoughtful one at that. I’m so proud, honored, and humbled to be part of such a wonderful cycling community. It is an honor to have met both you and The Hammer in Davis. My life is so much richer for finding your site. Thank you!

  18. Comment by AKChick55 | 11.8.2012 | 1:08 pm

    A comment on the soccer balls – I think that Fatty has a HUGE fundraising endeavor on his hands right now. Let’s let him finish up with that. If he’d like to take on the soccer ball thing, great, but we don’t want him to get spread too thin. I really like WBR’s model for empowering. We need to employ that model more in the USA. Empower, not entitle. Anyway, it’s an excellent idea and if Fatty doesn’t have the capacity to pursue once this fundraiser is over, then maybe one of his wonderful readers/fans might take on the challenge. :)

  19. Comment by Skippy | 11.8.2012 | 1:38 pm

    Whilst i was aware of the Great Good that WBR does by giving the bikes , i had been unaware of the recipient signing a ” Contract of Responsibility ” ! THIS must be a really creative way to encourage more people to seek assistance and at the same time helps the community to ensure that the recipient’s bike is not abused or stolen by others .

    Creating a local factory to build the bikes , would be a long term commitment fraught with pratfalls . Finding the right ” Key employees ” would take a lot of pressure off the Charity Founders .

    With seeing Brad Wiggins hospitalised y/day and his Coach , Shane Sutton , also today ,in the Manchester , UK region , i wonder if the roads there are any safer than they are in the UK ?

  20. Comment by Paula | 11.8.2012 | 2:17 pm

    The donaton link is not working for me. My company matches at %50 for anything over $25.00. Is there a tax ID number I can use for the charity in order to get the matching funds to you?

  21. Comment by Heidi | 11.8.2012 | 2:19 pm

    Fabulous video!

    Is it just me? Your link to donate isn’t working right now.

    Hmmm. It’s working for me! Try again. – FC

  22. Comment by Colorado mama | 11.8.2012 | 2:26 pm

    will you accept 6040 rubles from 2 missionaries in Russia for 2 bikes? AND see that it gets doubled to make that 4 bicycles?

    We love what you are doing. “When you are in the service of your fellow man, you are only in the service of your God.” Thank you for your service to these wonderful people of Africa. Colorado Mama & DRS

  23. Comment by Katie Bolling | 11.8.2012 | 2:48 pm

    World Bicycle Relief’s tax ID number is: 20-5080679
    Also, I just tested the donation page myself and it seems to be working fine. Please keep me posted if you continue to have problems. Thanks!

  24. Comment by GenghisKhan | 11.8.2012 | 3:04 pm

    @Fatty/Katie Bolling:

    I’m curious as to the impact to those who do not receive bicycles within a community, especially if the primary recipients are female. Are there concerns/issues with this? How do you handle it?


  25. Comment by Heidi | 11.8.2012 | 8:26 pm

    Yes indeedy, the error code is gone and it worked like a charm. Whoo hoo!

  26. Comment by bob | 11.8.2012 | 9:01 pm

    I’m thinking that soccer ball could have used some Stan’s…

  27. Comment by Katie Bolling | 11.8.2012 | 10:32 pm


    Thanks for this great question! I don’t want to steal Fatty’s thunder as he may be addressing this in an upcoming post but I’ll give a brief answer for now and feel free to email me at if you’d like to hear more about this or if you have new follow-up questions. For now, here goes:
    WBR – and our partners in the field – address those issues/concerns in many ways but first I want to make it known that we partner with the Ministry of Education in Zambia on our education program and it is that organization that designated that girls receive 70% of the bicycles. So, as you may know, growing data illustrates how powerful it is to give girls (and women) equal opportunities to education and employment and we’re proud to work with organizations in rural Africa that understand the truth to that data. In turn, as the Ministry of Education understands that, we work with other organizations in the field down to the community level who select volunteers who act as a “local PTA”. They are the individuals who monitor attendance and ensure the bicycles are also used appropriately and they also would be the group to monitor any concerns over students who aren’t initially selected to receive a bicycle. Keeping in mind that students are selected who have the greatest distance to school, things typically go very smoothly in the selection process. Now, what do you think the beauty of the situation is to those who may not get a bike? On each bike is a back rack with a 100kg carrying capacity, makes it pretty easy to give a ride to a friend who may not have a bike, doesn’t it?!

  28. Comment by Peter | 11.9.2012 | 6:38 am

    Just a thought. When I went to the donation page it states (correctly) that since this is a contest the donation is not tax deductible. Could you have a seperate link where the donation would be tax deductible (not part of the contest). That way there would be two ways to show support for this great cause and your blog.

  29. Comment by Anonymous | 11.9.2012 | 8:55 am

    I wish people in this town where I live would get the point that just giving stuff to kids doesn’t improve their lives. Not learning responsibility and expecting a hand out does not make a mature adult that will contribute to society. WBR’s philosphy needs to be applied the the welfare system in the USA.

  30. Comment by Kiyomi | 11.9.2012 | 9:30 am

    A very thought provoking post. Here is an article from today’s NY Times on another take on soccer balls.

  31. Comment by Katie Bolling | 11.9.2012 | 9:38 am

    If you want to make a tax-deductible donation that supports Fatty, please feel free to make a donation to the below link and then you can email the receipt to me at kbolling@worldbicyclerelief and I will be sure the amount is applied to Fatty’s goal. Thanks!

  32. Comment by Tara | 11.9.2012 | 10:25 am

    Hey, Fatty! Did you see what the kids did when they were REALLY happy? They RAN! Just sayin’ :)

    Amazing stuff!!
    Take care.

  33. Comment by AKChick55 | 11.9.2012 | 10:37 am

    First installment made on a bike! I love this! I had to re-read the post. I love your beautiful and huge hearts (Fatty, Hammer, Swimmer, your fans). Thank you, again, for doing this!

  34. Comment by dan p | 11.9.2012 | 12:21 pm

    Hey, Fatty. That video gave a big smile.

    Just wanted to share that I just turned 30 last week and in lieu of any gifts this year I asked friends to donate to WBR, and they ended up giving $400! Best gift ever.

  35. Comment by Tom Halliday | 11.9.2012 | 1:13 pm

    Fantastic stuff Fatty! 2 more bicycles on their way to Zambia now that I finally pulled my finger out.

  36. Comment by ClydesDave | 11.9.2012 | 3:06 pm

    i just broke down in tears, in the middle of my office, watching this…wow. thanks for sharing.

  37. Comment by Jenni | 11.9.2012 | 9:45 pm

    Dan P,
    Seriously, you’re my kind of friend. What a fantastic person you are.

  38. Comment by FujiPixie13 / Beci | 11.11.2012 | 7:33 am

    +1 -> @Jenni & @Dan P

    AKChick55, I’m hoping to be able to make a partial installment towards a bike soon, too. :o)

    I’m thinking I might ask for that for Christmas from my family, help me buy a bike for Zambia. :o)

  39. Comment by Little1 | 11.12.2012 | 12:41 am

    So awesome to see an organisation not just giving but building! Thanks WBR!!

    On an aside, a young lady (16yrs old) here in South Africa has been riding races and doing really well (placing top 3 regularly) and has been nominated as young up and coming female athlete of the year. And it would be awesome if your readers might take moment to vote for her… but not because she is young and rides well,no, rather because whenever she rides and races she does it to raise awareness and funds for our local Cancer organisations more specifically ‘CHOC’ or Chilldhood Cancer. She has even completed a 100mile of nowhere to raise funds for CHOC. She is an amazing dedicated young lady who puts many adult cyclists to shame. PLEASE could you and all your fans consider voting for her, ‘Lauren Varty’ at Thanks

  40. Comment by Susan Bomlin | 11.12.2012 | 7:03 am

    Wonderful video… and it certainly looks like the kids are quite impressed with Melissa’s skills. great to see and really warms the heart.

  41. Comment by Sarah | 11.12.2012 | 10:27 am

    Soccer and bikes – two things I love. Glad to see you’re still making a difference.

  42. Comment by Brian in VA | 11.13.2012 | 4:15 pm

    Another bike is on it’s way to Zambia, Fatty. Thanks for putting together such a great program!

  43. Comment by Katherine | 11.14.2012 | 9:33 am

    Great story. I met F.K. a couple of years ago at a bike industry event and, being a newb, had no idea who he was. He was kind and humble and invited my coworker and I to go on one of their trips to see what they do and to help out, stressing that it would be a valuable working trip (i.e. not a vacation). I’m not able to go, but I was inspired by how passionately he spoke of the program. It’s a great perspective for those of us the bike industry who can get lost and narrow-minded quibbling over $8,000 toys.

  44. Comment by Nick | 11.16.2012 | 2:14 pm

    Example here is one the USA can stand to replicate!!!

  45. Comment by Ginger | 11.16.2012 | 3:18 pm

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