Everywhere I go – whether to the prison or to the community center – I am greeted with smiles. When I pass through the bars at the penitentiary, I know we are doing something important – something very special. The women in jail give me brute strength and energy, just like my children and my family.
PILAR, Argentina ꟷ In the women’s penitentiary unit in the town of San Martín, I looked the women in the eye, determined to teach them a trade through bicycle repair. Every day, these women will either look at the bars that separate them from society or at opportunities placed in front of them. I want to offer one of those opportunities.
As we gather in a circle, I encourage them to change the way they see the world. I remind them that, in time, they can transform their lives. They accept my words and lean in, preparing repaired bicycles for people on the outside. Each person’s body moves mechanically, using creativity to transform a broken piece of equipment into a decent means of transportation – into something beautiful.
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I watch as they experience a reunion with their own spirit and gain the mental strength and heart necessary for life beyond bars and the trappings of jail. I see in them, inspiration, openness, and joy.
In another moment, I enter a lounge in the community where boys and girls from the neighborhood share lunch. An enormous feeling of satisfaction comes over me as I hand out the first bicycle from the women at the penitentiary. I give it to the lady who cooks the meals for the children.
All of my dreams to help my community, and all the work of my team, comes to fruition in that moment. “Voy en Bici Argentina,” my nonprofit organization, comes to life. I know we will be successful in helping communities, villas, settlements, and other vulnerable communities in Buenos Aires.
When I get out of my car and begin to unload repaired bicycles in the communities we serve, I remember the earliest days of dreaming about this project. I hoped to solve social transportation issues for the vulnerable, and with the delivery of the bicycles, the project feels immortalized. In the community kitchen, with the children looking on, I distribute bicycles amidst the aroma of hot food in the air.
Everywhere I go – whether to the prison or to the community center – I am greeted with smiles. When I pass through the bars at the penitentiary, I know we are doing something important – something very special. The women in jail give me brute strength and energy, just like my children and my family. When I do this work with love and compassion, I gain all the energy I need.
A time came when my project nearly derailed. In the middle of the project, I fell ill. During that period, I lost twenty-five kilos. My children watched me with surprise as they witnessed the sudden changes in my body. I ended up being hospitalized for many days and I feared the worst.
Lying in the hospital bed with devices attached to my body, my wife stood by my side. I tearfully told her, “If something goes wrong, I want you to be happy and find someone. Take care of our children.”
After a seven-hour surgery, I awoke and saw that I was still alive. Opening my eyes, I looked out and realized, once again, I had something to fight for. I had a cause. In that moment, I felt so motivated to go and do more. This excitement gave me the strength I needed to recover and move on. Both my family and the people I served needed me.
Ever since then, we work with the prisoners and we hand out bicycles. The responses of the people always affects me, but there is one man I can never forget. Early on, we delivered a bicycle to a man trying to make a living. He wanted to work in food delivery and earn tips by distributing food orders.
When we arrived with his bicycle, which would allow him to work, the happiness on his face radiated. Now he could fulfill his goals. With each and every bicycle, I remember his expectant smile, that hidden emotion, and the sense of victory he felt. For that experience, we generate one opportunity after another.
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