One Step Beyond – Afghanistan – Bicycle Rehabilitation
The Afghanistan relief organization AABRAR – Afghan Amputee Bicyclists for Rehabilitation and Recreation – was created by Dr. Abdul Baseer in 1995. The idea of AABRAR is both simple and beautiful: that some of the mobility lost through a mine accident can be replaced by a bicycle, and that that bicycle can also provide a basis for income and survival (with the added benefits that cycling promotes physical fitness, and can be relaxing and restorative).
Every month, around twenty men from all over Afghanistan – men injured by mines, or during the war, or who have been disabled by Polio – are invited to the "Bicycle School" in Jalalabad, where they learn to ride a bicycle. The bicycles here are from Pakistan or China, and are modified by AABRAR's mechanics to accommodate the special needs of the men's particular disabilities. In addition to bike riding, basic lessons are given on mine awareness, reading and writing, hygiene, massage, and medical care. At the end of the month-long course, each participant is given a certificate, and – most notably – a bicycle. For many men, this course is a first opportunity to talk with people who have had similar experiences.
Because it is taboo for women to ride bicycles outside Kabul, AABRAR offers a different training course for disabled girls and women in Jalalabad – for six months, they are taught to knit and sew (as well as read and write), and at the end of the course each participant is given a sewing machine. As disabled women have very little chance of marrying, their new skills provide them with a way to earn money.
The men learn to read and write for one month, the women for half a year. In Afghanistan, education is a huge asset.