Katherine Cassidy of Lubec, a former state representative and now a volunteer with the Catholic Relief Services (CRS) operating in Uganda, still says she is "astonished" at the success of her effort to provide rural African farm families with bicycles. "Just to know that I'm having an impact on 16 families," she describes as "incredible."
Cassidy says her first trip to Africa was a 1987 visit to Kenya, where she struck up a correspondence with a young man who is now a father raising his own family. The correspondence continues today. In 2015 she joined CRS and went first to western Kenya then to neighboring Uganda, where her work focused on creation of self‑help groups for farmers in the Nyabbani sub‑county area of the Kamwenge District, seven hours from the capital at Kampala.
After returning from her most recent trip she received a hand‑written letter from the local beekeeper. He asked if she could help him obtain a bicycle so he could better coordinate the efforts of his neighbors. "Sure I can," she says, "but can't I do more?" Her original thought was perhaps to come up with five, so that the newly elected Agricultural Cooperative Council C including the beekeeper C could spread their efforts farther afield. Using social media that goal was quickly surpassed, then came a $300 anonymous donation, which pushed the total to 16 bikes. "It's amazing what $1,500 can do," she says.
"I asked for gender balance," she says, "with half the women's bikes going to widows." The recipients were asked to gather in early March "to meet a visitor," with only the beekeeper knowing in advance what was about to happen. The group was read a letter from Cassidy, with the assistance of a translator, that said C among other things C "if you don't know how to ride a bicycle, you soon will." The bike distribution event turned into "an amazing festival," she says.
Cassidy says her future plans include more visits to Africa, perhaps this November. "Fear isn't part of it," she says in response to a question about sectarian violence. "It's the opportunity to change lives." CRS does provide excellent security, she adds.