I returned last month from another visit to Sao Paulo, to continue work on the fantastic Escolas de Bicicleta project that Copenhagenize Consulting developed with the City's Education Dept.
On my previous visit the project was in the preparation stage. The curriculum for the bicycle classes was being designed and the bamboo bicycles that we were to contruct for the students were still on the drawing board.
This time, however, it was very different. The children were ready to roll.
I had the pleasure of being present in the classroom at a few schools when the first bicycle class started their course.
Right off the bat I have to say that the whole week was inspirational. It's one thing pitching an idea and then building up a project but quite another to see the whole thing kick off. And with children. The whole romantic notion that THIS is the next generation and we are putting them back onto bikes. Planting the seeds and watching the first shoots spring up through the earth on their way to becoming a forest.
Seriously. It's hard to describe the emotions. Meeting these kids at the different schools and chatting with them and seeing their enthusiasm and joy has really left it's mark on me.
The first school we visited was CEU Sao Mateus. The first Bicycle Class was an introduction to the course. Educators have been hired for each of the schools and trained in leading the courses. The first day was about getting to know the project, seeing the bamboo bicycles and the accompanying gear like tools, etc. A brief intro into changing tires, etc. Then the kids did an exercise: creating a poster of a bicycle with individually-drawn bicycle parts.
Most of the course will be hands-on experience with the bicycles but the classrooom work will revolve around bicycle history, bicycle culture and other aspects like social inclusion and sustainability. All from a practical, sensible point of view. The goal has never been to create a legion of bike geeks - just giving bicycles to kids and getting them to ride them. A legion of Citizen Cyclists. Citizens who just happen to use a bicycle. This is reflected in the curriculum delivered to the educators and a great deal of emphasis was placed on it.
At another school later in the week, the students got their introduction and tested out a bike in the gymnasium (below). The bamboo bicycles designed for the project were being constructed. We also went for a walk in the neighbourhood to look at the route they would be riding to school in the convoys and to see how many bicycles they could count.
Back at CEU Sao Mateus on the first day, the kids had a few bikes at their disposal and we hit the asphalt outside the school to start practicing. Notice I'm saying "experience" and "practicing". Astronauts need "training" - Citizen Cyclists merely need practice and encourage. That's been the case for 125 years.
A simple obstacle course was set up and the kids took turns giving the bamboo bikes a spin. There was a festive mood and all the classmates cheered each other on.
When we were done, the bikes were still popular and the kids took turns going for a spin.
I also had the priviledge of meeting all the educators - the young people hired to lead the courses at the many schools. I gave a presentation aimed at inspiring them and providing them with insight into Bicycle Culture by Design and why the Escolas de Bicicleta project is so important.
The next stage was the kids starting to ride to school in their convoys from designated points in their communities, escorted by monitors - largely young people from the community empowered to lead the convoys.
The team took a ride along the route through the community that the children would ride to school. Suddenly this kid rolls up on a tall bike with a For Sale sign on it. He saw eight people on bicycles and figured he might offload the tallbike.
I got him to show me how to get up on one and then I took it for a spin, while he tried my bamboo bike. What the hell is a tallbike doing in an eastern suburb of Sao Paulo?! Did some bearded hipster from Portlandia get lost - REALLY lost - and leave the bike behind?
I remain amazed by the facilities at the schools we visited. All the ones I visited had swimming pools, great sports facilities, skateboard ramps and bowls and an amazing array of courses. At one of the schools we walked into the chess tournament. The gym was packed for this massive event and the winners were cheered as loud as the crowd at a Santos match after a hattrick by Neymar. CHESS... Wonderful.
The team who have put this all together on the ground in Sao Paulo are amazing. Such passion and drive. One thing was left at the end of the week. We had to baptize the bamboo bicycles. This basically involved the Secretary of Education for the city of Sao Paulo - Alexandre Schneider - holding the bike and me saying stuff, followed by taking a swig of cachaca and spraying it on the bicycle's spinning wheel.
I left Sao Paulo on a cloud. Meeting the team once again but also meeting the children on the courses was an inspiration and a revelation.
I love my job.