MARYSVILLE — Abandoned bicycles tend to pile up in the evidence lockers at the Marysville Police Department.
So over coffee one day, officer Joseph Belleme mentioned them to Kelly Huckaby, an old friend from church.
Police had been struggling to find local takers for the bikes. But maybe Huckaby, a missionary, could put them to use in Africa?
At the time Huckaby was filling a shipping container with books and supplies for his next 30-month stay at Ciyanjano Christian Campgrounds. He lives there with his wife and their eight kids on the outskirts of Lusaka, the capital and largest city in Zambia.
They were planning to build a library at the camp, in a mostly English-speaking country where literacy rates are low and half of the population is younger than 15. Teachers often have one textbook for the whole class. The container was getting full.
But bikes have immense value in Zambia. Staffers at the camp live well outside of the actual city. Low-quality bikes can be bought for $150, out of reach for workers making $2 to $4 a day. A ride into town can cost half a day’s wages. Cramped buses arrive casually, with no real schedule. Those who have bikes use them as the family vehicle, to bring home huge sacks of meal, like with a wheelbarrow.
“Out where we are, a bicycle is upward mobility,” said Huckaby, speaking on the phone Monday from Zambia. “When you have a bike, that’s freedom.”
In other words? Yes, Huckaby could use them.
Belleme spent weeks of his free time refurbishing two dozen bikes: BMX bikes, nice Cannondale road bikes and entry-level Walmart specials. The discarded evidence had gone unclaimed for months. Some were lost and never recovered. Some were stolen but never reported. Many were in need of repair.
“Man, I’m not by any means a fixer-upper kind of guy,” Belleme said. “But I can work on a bike here and there.”
For years police haven’t been able to find a local nonprofit, church or youth program to take them consistently. Some groups have shown interest, but never followed through, Cmdr. Mark Thomas said. Marysville police want the bikes to go to a good cause — not sold for profit.
Halfway around the world in Zambia, they’d found that good cause. Evidence specialists cherry-picked the bikes that would need the least work. Belleme greased chains. He put new tubes in the tires and fixed seats. He made them ready to ride.
Police wrote a letter to the Zambian government, to make it clear that the bikes needed to get to their destination. Officers were concerned that, somewhere in transit, things might disappear.
There aren’t many shortcuts if you’re trying to cross the globe. This shipment went from Lynden to Seattle to Hong Kong, and arrived by truck from Tanzania, about a year after that talk over coffee.
About 10 children’s bikes were delivered to an orphanage near the camp. The others were given to staff. Older children could use them to ride to school. Ciyanjano, an evangelical Christian camp run by ACTION Zambia, is designed to help local churches in the slums, those that can’t afford retreats at lodges or hotels. Staff gives out hot meals each week to about 200 kids, many of whom are surviving off one meal a day, Huckaby said.
Four of the Huckabys’ kids were adopted in Africa. Three are foster children. Huckaby studied at Western Washington University to be a teacher, before he felt God calling his family to go to Zambia, to work with orphans and kids with HIV. These are bright kids. Most are bilingual. Huckaby knows Zambians who speak up to 12 languages.
Unrest has plagued the nation in recent weeks. A cholera outbreak. Riots over closures of local markets. Meanwhile, the Huckabys have been getting ready to open a library full of children’s literature and classics in the coming weeks, in the recycled shipping container.
“If the children of Zambia have a good opportunity, it’s a country that can really see a lot of good change,” Huckaby said. “Africa is the future, in a lot of ways, because it’s very, very young.”
Caleb Hutton: 425-339-3454; firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @snocaleb.