Article credit by Wayne Witkoski of The Pocono Record.
Two of David Schweidenback’s favorite subjects that often creep into his mind — bicycles and sewing machines — may not seem related.
But when looking at the more than 20 years he has dedicated to Pedals for Progress, it makes sense when he explains it as he did in another of his many return talks to the Rotary Club of the Stroudsburgs last Thursday at Sycamore Grille in Delaware Water Gap.
Schweidenback firmly believes that if you give people the tools they need to make their lives batter, they use them to become empowered. They can better take charge of their own lives. He realized that points during his work as a Peace Corps volunteer in Ecuador.
You give people in an underdeveloped place like Rivas, Nicaragua bicycles where Pedals for Progress made its first delivery, and they can travel to work and deliver goods for their business. Youngsters can get to school.
“A bicycle to a person in Nicaragua is like a pickup truck here,” Schweidenback said. “They now have a life where they can take their produce to market.”
 
The same goes for sewing machines. In some cultures where women can only take jobs for a living in which they sew, give them sewing machines and they advance their lives. Those women may even be successful enough to start their own business.
The proof: A Nicaraguan’s education normally ended after elementary school but a recent study showed that education for many extends through high school. And many of them need school uniforms to be sewn.
In Yemen, a country where women can only work making clothes for other women, the Pedals for Progress group gave one group of 15 women 15 sewing machines. Their business grew so that they could buy the material and items needed for their business, which enabled them to make money.
“It’s been our goal to give people dignity to work, “Schweidenback said. “The better off the developing world is, the better off we are.” And the more empowered people can become.
It’s a simple but poignant message that Schweidenback extended to Rotary members in his goal to muster continued support.
“You do a great job. Everything here (with Rotary Club of the Stroudsburgs) has been done perfectly,” Schweidenback said to the Rotary membership.
But he said the emphasis has shifted a little more to sewing machines because so many organizations and people in America collect bicycles for other reasons, including scrap metal. The best time to collect bikes is only about half of the year in the warmer weather – no one is thinking about bikes in the winter -- and he said even July and August, which figure to be good months for it, are not. Sewing machines, meanwhile, can be collected year round.
“He’s one person, and look what he’s accomplished,” Rotarian Ginny Kirkwood, who also served in the Peace Corps in the 1970s, said to the membership. “He’s told his story to people all over the world and we can be proud of it.”
Pedals for Progress since it began in 1991, has given to underdeveloped countries 146,815 bicycles, including 3,375 last year. Since it added sewing machines to its mission in 1997, it has donated 3,272, Including 318 last year that have gone to people, many of them toward furthering a business.
“We welcome new sewing machines but there’s nothing like a 1960 Singer that uses solid stainless steel, not plastic parts,” Schweidenback said. Durability is important in those countries because there are not many service centers in that part of the world. Some actually prefer the turn-of-the-1900s models that you don’t plug in, that are manually operated, Schweidenback said.
Schweidenback said the support has grown to 80 organizations in the region like the Rotary Club that organize collections going to 16 countries. But as the initiative has grown, the name Pedals for Progress confused people when it came to sewing machines, even though many still were shipped with bicycles to countries. So why not split the two endeavors under different names, Schweidenback thought. From that, “Sewing Peace” became the new name for the sewing machines with a new logo. Pedals for Progress – 4P4 -- remains.
They also recently launched their own eight-page newsletters, although Schweidenback pointed out he needs to add a letter to the “In Stich” logo for the magazine launched last winter. “In Gear,” for the bicycles part of the mission, launched this spring.
They include a testimonial from someone in the Fiji Islands, a profile of people helped in Moldova, a man in Nicaragua using a sewing machine for a side job to give him added security in case he loses his job as an office assistant for a private company, a man in Ghana who was able to use not only bicycles he received that can be a huge help to his countrymen but bicycle parts so that he can service bicycles needing repair.
“We believe that each individual effort can make a difference,” Schweidenback wrote for In Gear. “We were also blessed to have the first hand privilege of helping unemployed widows who struggle to put food on their tables to fill their starving little young loved ones. Now having a source of income, these talented ladies can now use these sewing machines and sell garments. Though it may not be hundreds or millions in a day, the lovely smiles of relief on their faces give us a humble relief that it was more than enough.”
Even for those in the public who are not Rotarians, they can help when announced drives take place.
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