Map of the Bike Scouts work area for the Typhoon Yolanda Response in 2013.
The first generation of bicycle volunteers stayed on and worked in the areas affected by Typhoon Yolanda for four months after the storm. In that time, seven volunteer teams rotated to continue helping people communicate with loved ones as well as aid, rescue, and government agencies that could give them better assistance. The Bicycle Scouts project was partnered with Rappler through it civic engagement arm MovePH for the Typhoon Yolanda deployment, Rappler provided the Bike Scouts teams with support on the ground as well as access to their satellite internet access facilities that allowed Bike Scouts to post data online and get in touch with the loved ones of evacuees. Four years on, the Bicycle Scouts Project has deployed to many other typhoon-affected areas to do the same kind of work, including its latest deployment to Caramoan, Camarines Sur in the Bicol Region of the Philippines.
The Bicycle Scouts Project has grown into a network of volunteers and “verified local contacts” of the Bike Scouts that stretch from Northern Luzon, Manila, Calabarzon, Samar, Leyte, and Cebu. There is also a Bike Scouts volunteer team that’s based in Cucamonga, California USA, in partnership with Goozam, a geo-specific emergency response app that allows anybody with the app on ther device to send out a call for help or provide assistance as a Geo-volunteer. The volunteer teams that have been organized in the past four years represent a very local presence of the Bike Scouts in each of the communities where the teams reside. In times of disasters, the Bike Scouts volunteer network mobilize to gather real-time information and data based on local knowledge of each of the places where they emanate from. The network gives Bike Scouts the uniquely organized ability to reach out, and act if necessary, wherever there are local Bike Scouts volunteer teams that operate in their own communities. The more important work of the Bicycle Scouts Project beyond disaster response is promoting community-based disaster preparedness using bicycles and portable life-saving technology such as mobile phones and apps, solar kits, water-purification kits, AEDs and other similar devices. The difference in the Bike Scouts approach is that everything is designed to be localized, all the knowledge, resources, and skills that the Bicycle Scouts Project has accumulated is open-sourced to all volunteer teams in the network.
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It’s because of the “localized” nature of the volunteer work of the Bike Scouts that allow its teams to access isolated and hard to find places, exactly the kind of places that often need disaster response the most. In a country like the Philippines, a vast majority of those that are completely devastated by natural disasters are never actually reached by aid and rescue – this is a fact. From the flooded villages in Mindoro, the typhoon-devastated fishing communities that face the Pacific Ocean, and the many tribal communities in mountains and coastal areas help is often something that they’ve never heard of. Bike Scouts volunteer teams specialize in serving these places, in addition to the more-established areas that might need help in the aftermath of natural disasters.
In the off-season when there are no typhoons and there aren’t any natural disasters to respond to, Bike Scouts volunteers organize regular community activities that promote its advocacy of community involvement in disaster preparedness and social good. Among these projects are the flagship events like the annual Midnight Ride where Bike Scouts volunteer bicycle messenger teams ride out on the evening of December 24th to deliver gifts of food, clothes, and toys to the homeless. The Midnight Ride is a non-religious activity that’s done to address the neglect that people who have less experience at a time of the year when a majority of the population are out buying gifts and food for their own families. Christmas is a season for giving, the Midnight Ride is the Bike Scouts way of providing its volunteers with a way to give back to their own communities in the most meaningful way.
The Bike Scouts is also working with schools and communities for its latest concept project called “Hero School.” Hero School is a learning initiative that will teach kids and their parents about bicycles, bicycles safety, road safety, and also about how they can be Bike Scouts Volunteers in their own way. Hero School is a fun and engaging way for the public to discover the work that Bike Scouts volunteers do to promote community-based disaster preparedness, develop an interest in bicycles, adopt bicycles as means for mobility and to do good in the world. Hero School will also the main platform for sharing of stories and media content about the Bike Scouts that are designed to inspire interest and participation.
An equally important Flagship Project of the Bike Scouts is its annual 1,000-kilometer Ride from the Philippines’ capital city of Manila to the southernmost tip of Samar Island in the Visayas where Typhoon Yolanda first made landfall in 2013. Originally meant to celebrate the foundation of the Bicycle Scouts Project (also known as Bike Scouts Philippines after the name of its core group), the ride is now on its third year of running and is about to be opened up to the public as an organized long-distance stage ride. The aim of the event is to help promote the Bike Scouts’ advocacy of promoting community-based disaster preparedness and response using bicycles and portable technology. This goal is achieved through the stories and media materials that are generated by the ride as the participants meet the people and communities along the route that are among the most vulnerable to severe natural disasters. In addition, the 1,000-kilometer Ride project also opens up areas to bicycle enthusiasts who have never explored roads and trails beyond the usual destinations. Incidentally, the event also showcases the extent of the bicycle’s capacity for human-powered travel and mobility. Riding a thousand kilometers on a bicycles shows the potential of bicycles as a form of transportation and as a platform for disaster response. For more information, sign up to be a Bike Scout volunteer on our Facebook Group Page. There are no fees and no requirements, you don’t need to show up if you can’t, all we ask is that you adopt the Bike Scouts’ attitude of doing good for anyone, anywhere, and in any way. The Bike Scouts’ slogan is “Bring courage where it’s needed, hope, where there is none.”