Cycling Visionaries Awards – Project Details

SHUKRA–Cycling Skills for Refugees

SHUKRA–Cycling Skills for Refugees

This project aims at teaching refugees in Vienna how to cycle and move safely in the city. Many refugees settling in cities in Austria are not able to cycle; to change this situation in especially organized courses would enable them to fully participate in the city life, solve questions of transport and empower them in general. This would eventually help in their integration in the local society.

“Shukra” is a young woman that had to flee her homeland in Africa. Having reached Austria and waiting for her asylum claim to be processed in Vienna, she struggles with the same problems as most other persons that had to leave their native country unexpectedly: The provided financial support is hardly enough to enable her to move around by public transport on a daily basis, this way participating in language courses and in cultural life in general. Sights that can easily be visited by metro or tram seem out of reach and thereby contact with local society and prospects for a further integration low. She feels like an outsider, and after years of waiting and not seeing perspectives to improve her life situation also becomes one. Once the asylum claim might receive a positive answer, the time of uncertainty and spending in relative isolation in her shelter will have made her feel even more alienated from her host country and people around.

The given initiative was developed from a real life situation: It seemed a logical step to introduce Shukra to cycling. She reacted positively to this proposal, which was unexpected as she was brought up in a conservative society, where cycling is either a privilege for men and in general a tool of transport for “rich poor”. If she learned how to cycle, she would be able to go to the German course in the inner city easily and avoid public transport fees, get to know the surroundings of the place where she has been living for years, and finally be motivated to leave her small hostel room and do some exercise. But more important, this newly acquired skill would lead to her empowerment and make her feel more integrated in her host environment. As cycling has become very popular in Vienna and Austria in general, it is of particular importance to introduce persons on the margins of society to this aspect of local life. Persons can of course not forced to do so, but once somebody shows the motivation, despite a very opposing cultural background, and thereby already shows great willingness to adopt to local circumstances, it should be especially rewarded. This concerns males and females alike, whereas gender aspects should be considered in this effort.

An “absolute beginners” course approximately lasts 20 hours (information provided by the City Cycling School in Vienna); after this time of training, newcomers should have acquired the appropriate skills and self-confidence to use a bike in the city.

A group of students should be max. 10 persons and take into account cultural particularities. In general, in an ideal scenario the cycling teacher is accompanied by another person that helps with language issues and additionally facilitates the training. The course should also include lessons on traffic law and obligations and introduce the new cyclists to other aspects of relevance. Besides making them acquainted with the Citybike Vienna system, they should hear about other organisations that provide repair courses and lobby for cycling. A partnership with institutions working with refugees will be of special importance for reaching interested persons and informing them about this possibility, and also during the administration of the course. In its aftermath, these institutions should be of support to the target group to acquire a bicycle. Ideally, NGOs working with refugees in cooperation with the city of Vienna and cycling schools should implement such courses, based on an elaborated framework that can be applied on a standard basis. As a first step, it is recommended to set up an Advisory Council to set-up the foundations of such an initiative and provide institutional support for interested civil society actors, drawing also on experience from abroad (for eg Copenhagen).

This project has been developed for the Austrian context, but it is a general call up for all interested persons/groups to help their fellow citizens refugees and make sure that European cities become velo cities for everyone.

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Siegfried Wöber

Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

Category: Advocacy and Social Projects

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