German Bike Program Helps Refugee Women Acclimate To New Community
LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
In the U.S., it's practically a childhood right - learning how to ride a bicycle. That's not necessarily the case in other countries, especially for girls, but it is a skill that can offer a sense of freedom. A group in Germany is helping refugee women learn to ride. NPR's Deborah Amos saw the program in action while reporting in Berlin.
DEBORAH AMOS, BYLINE: The students meet in a sprawling park on the edge of Berlin. Some are recent arrivals from Syria, from Iraq and from Iran. Before they arrived in Germany, they didn't know how to ride a bike and were forbidden to even try.
ANNETTA KRUGER: My name is Annetta Kruger.
AMOS: Annetta Kruger gave her first bike riding class in 2015. She was working as a volunteer in a refugee camp. An avid cyclist, she figured she could change lives faster by teaching women to ride. At first, she was swarmed by kids, but she said, bring your mothers. And the moms were skeptical at first, but then they did join in.
KRUGER: After one hour - the first - she made it. And then the others saw that and said, ah, if she can make it, maybe I can make it.
AMOS: Since then, the program has added donors, volunteers, a website and a catchy name.
So it's Bike...
KRUGER: Bikeygees - bike and refugee. Bikeygees.
AMOS: That's Bikeygees.
KRUGER: We taught, actually, 1,100 women how to ride a bike. Yay.
AMOS: And thanks to donations, she's given out 400 bikes, helmets, locks and maintenance tools to students who learn Germany's rules of the road.
(SOUNDBITE OF BIKE BRAKING)
AMOS: Here's how it works. Shaha Khalef, who learned to ride three years ago, is now a volunteer. She's running besides a new rider, holding her until she finds the balance and the confidence to take off on her own. Khalef is a Yazidi from Sinjar, Iraq, where she says she wasn't allowed to ride a bike when she was growing up.
So what does it mean for you to learn how to do this?
SHAHA KHALEF: (Speaking Arabic).
AMOS: "It's really beautiful," says this 21-year-old with a broad smile. "It's a beautiful feeling. I can ride with friends, and it's a good sport."
Many refugee women recount the oppressive restrictions back home. One Syrian activist in Berlin tells me that it was her first bike ride when she understood there were different rules for girls and for boys. Joumana Seif remembers her 11-year-old self riding a bike in Damascus for the first time.
KHALEF: The people there and children also - it was shocking for them that I'm riding a bike. And they started to say, oh, shame on you. You are a girl just riding a bicycle.
AMOS: Even the children said, shame on you?
KHALEF: Yes, even the children.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Non-English language spoken).
AMOS: In Germany, language is seen as the key to integration for newcomers. Annetta Kruger insists that it's bikes. Learning to ride and learning to fix one, especially for women, instills a sense of self-sufficiency, a necessary ingredient for integration.
KRUGER: Yeah, they are taller.
AMOS: They're taller?
KRUGER: Yeah, they grew up. Many said I didn't expect ever in my life that I can do that because it was my dream - every woman on the world should be able to ride a bike and allowed to.
AMOS: And Kruger believes that biking is a human right. Deborah Amos, NPR News, Berlin.
[POST-BROADCAST CLARIFICATION: As the story states, women in this program said they were prevented from riding bikes by social pressure. The story did not mean to imply that all of their home countries outlaw bike riding by girls.]
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.