Two wheeled solidarity with Ukraine

Two wheeled solidarity with UkraineGiving a smile back to Ukrainian refugees and to all those around the world who are forced to flee their homes because of war, hunger, persecution, and natural disasters caused by climate change. After the outbreak of the conflict in Ukraine, the Luxembourg-based 'Riding the Rainbow' was created with this goal : to promote a circular economy inspired by Laudato si’ by giving new life to previously used bicycles, sporting goods, musical instruments and books.

 Cecilia Seppia – Vatican City

“There was a boy who, like me, loved the Beatles and the Rolling Stones: he sang verses from a well-known song that still rings in everyone's ears - with a voice like Gianni Morandi's. At the time, there was the war in Vietnam; sadly, in the limelight on the world stage today, there is the conflict between Russia and Ukraine and the story goes something like this: There was a boy, who like so many others, loved soccer and the Champions League... He too traveled the world like the protagonist of the 1966 song, but one day he was forced to leave everything behind: going from the rich, green soccer fields to the arid grey fields of refugees. "Sixteen-year-old Daniel had recently arrived in Luxembourg with his family and was living in one of the areas set up to receive displaced persons. In Ukraine he played for Shakhtar Donetsk, one of the best teams, but when they started bombing, he ran away, taking with him only the clothes on his back. By an act of God, it so happened that, in our garage, there was a pair of small shoes in his size that had belonged to my son, also a soccer player, who played with a Luxembourg club. He put them on, tried them out with a few plays, and suddenly his face lit up with a big, hope-filled smile. An immense joy for him and for us, coming out of a very small gesture." Recounting this anecdote to me is Emanuele Santi, founder of Riding The Rainbow and president of the Afrilanthropy Association, which in March 2022 launched an initiative that is as simple as it is unique: putting used, but in good condition, bicycles and sports equipment back into play for the benefit of Ukrainian refugees.

Emanuele Santi and youngsters in one of Riding The Rainbow’s garages
Emanuele Santi and youngsters in one of Riding The Rainbow’s garages

The power of solidarity

Emanuele, a 46 year old Italian resident of Luxembourg, explains to Vatican News and L’Osservatore Romano how the idea came about.  Almost casually, he says "first, it was one of my two sons who wanted to donate his bike, so I decided to make our garage available so we could collect others here: a kind of solidarity shop where the currency of exchange is precisely the smile of those who have lost everything but who can now return to pedaling, climbing mountains, playing basketball, playing guitar, and having fun through sport."  Before long, ordinary citizens offered us 5 more garages for donating items and recounting stories and experiences, where people brought their used bicycles or bought new ones with the sole intent of donating them.

With increasing demand from donors and refugees across the country, the network of volunteers, united under the philanthropic NGO Afrilanthropy, realized that having only one or a few collection points limited their ability to meet everyone's needs. With the help of volunteers and the financial support of two local foundations (the Oeuvre Nationale de Secours Grande-Duchesse Charlotte and the André Losch Foundation), an App was developed to facilitate the exchange between donors and recipients living nearby (it is downloadable on the Apple Store, Google Play, and the Association's website).

Environmental education during the 2023 “Earth Village” in Rome
Environmental education during the 2023 “Earth Village” in Rome

An App for making donations anywhere in the world

The concept that animates Riding The Rainbow, which participated in the 2023 “Earth Village” set up in Rome’s Villa Borghese park, is certainly not that of cleaning out one’s garage or mere charity. Behind it is that "culture of caring" so dear to Pope Francis; there is the desire for encounter, for awareness of the other, for hands outstretched toward a neighbor who becomes brother and friend, and of course there are the great themes expressed in Laudato si' such as a circular economy, recycling materials, solidarity, human and environmental connection, an integral ecology that respects nature and man as two parts of a whole. "By now we are in so many countries," Santi continues, "so the App is essential to establish contact between the donor and the recipient, and all in total safety because for the exchange of bicycles or other sports equipment and even of musical instruments and baby strollers, it is not necessary to provide one’s home address but just an approximate one, giving each other an appointment at a bar or bus stop. And even when there is no possibility of a physical meeting, technology still helps us to do good and to create virtual friendships. In addition to facilitating social integration, the App has also provided job opportunities: the project has hired several refugees and entered into a partnership with a Ukrainian company in Lviv to develop the Riding The Rainbow App.

Emanuele Santi with a number of volunteers and supporters
Emanuele Santi with a number of volunteers and supporters

The numbers behind the initiative

Nearly 1,300 users of the App, 12 countries involved in the initiative, and more than 700 happy youngsters - these are the numbers behind Riding The Rainbow: but, says Santi, "behind each number there is a face.”  Behind each number, he adds, “there’s the story of a precious object which was once important to a child and now gets to live again. Each number represents a young refugee who is beginning anew in his or her host community thanks in part to sports as a channel of communication and integration." The goal is to broaden and expand solidarity so that anyone, even a simple citizen like Emanuele, can become a driving force and promoter of generosity. "Having a bicycle or scooter again connects these kids to the life they left behind," concludes Emanuele Santi who continues to tell us anecdotes and shares his experiences. One that stands out is related to the association's name: "We had just started our solidarity activities when a Ukrainian mother approached us and very shyly said that the bike donated to her children had lit up their eyes in a rainbow."



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03 July 2023, 16:03