The Rotary Wheels for Learning (RWFL) program is celebrating their tenth anniversary and the milestone of 10,000 bikes donated to Cambodian children.
The RWFL program started by providing bicycles to children in rural Cambodia to help them travel to school, which is often a distance of three to five kilometres. Now, the program has grown to include donations of food, hygiene products and other supplies as well as projects to build and maintain community resources such as wells, washrooms and playgrounds. The Rotary Club of Gravenhurst leads the program, which Lisa McCoy founded in 2012 and transferred over to Mike Cole in 2016. Cole, who now serves as chair and field coordinator of RWFL, said the scope of the initiative started to expand in 2018.
“After a couple trips to Cambodia, I quickly learned that getting the children to school wasn’t enough,” Cole said. “The infrastructure at the schools was so dilapidated or non-existent that children would get sick as a result of not being able to drink water or clean themselves after using the washroom.”
He said it’s surreal to see how far the program has come. In 2022 alone, RWFL has built, repaired and distributed 624 bicycles. Along with distributing food to local organizations, the program has delivered 200 pounds of school supplies, 200 packages of feminine hygiene products, and a year’s supply of soap and towels to six schools.
It’s also funded the installation of 85 latrines in three villages and 14 water filters in schools along with other water sanitation and hygiene projects. Rotary clubs including Bracebridge, Huntsville, Minden, Parry Sound, Orillia and more have provided financial donations and other support to help the program succeed.
The Gravenhurst Rotary Club held a celebration at the Gravenhurst Opera House midday Thursday with over 60 people in attendance. Cole made a presentation to provide updates on the initiative and Mayor Paul Kelly congratulated him on behalf of council, staff and the community. Cole said he hopes the initiative will continue to grow and help address the need in Cambodia, but their main roadblock is securing enough funding.
“We are actively seeking donations for bicycles,” Cole said, adding that the bicycles cost $50 each. Donors get a tax receipt along with a photo of the child who will receive the bike. “We are also renovating two schools, building 70 latrines, distributing food to orphanages and water filters to schools. Any size donations are welcomed.”