Give a child a bicycle and the possibilities for imaginative adventure are limitless: It could be a stallion, a race car, a speedy escape from a younger brother. But give a child in a developing country a bicycle and the possibilities could change her life. That's the mentality behind 88bikes, an organization that donates bicycles to children who've been through the types of experiences that put your "bad day" in perspective—war, extreme poverty, and human trafficking, to name a few. For these kids, owning their own wheels can mean getting back a piece of a stolen childhood, a break from the reality of life, or, more practically, a convenient alternative to hoofing it everywhere.
"88bikes is all about connecting people around the world," says cofounder Dan Austin. The nonprofit has donated 2,000 bicycles to date, including ones to the children whose stories follow. If they inspire you to get involved, check out 88bikes.org to find out how your family can become a sponsor.
Before the bikes arrived at the Vietnamese orphanage, the director was shuttling kids to school, up to four at a time, on the back of his motorcycle. The donations gave the children, such as those above, the independence to make the journey by themselves—and allowed the director to take a break from the multiple trips he used to make every morning.
Tracey March and Rodney Trepass, daughter Devon, 11 Bend, Oregon
"We started donating to 88bikes when Devon was 7. Now that she's older, we're able to talk about some of the issues these kids face and research the cultures of the countries together. She's gotten a real-life perspective on what it's like to be an orphan, instead of some Little Orphan Annie tale." Tracey March
It's hard not to be inspired by the optimism of the Nepalese orphans 88bikes helps here, many of whom come from a background of domestic or sexual abuse. After receiving the donations, the kids talked eagerly about how the bikes could keep them healthy through exercise and aid the area's pollution problem.
Ian Pund and megan Noble, sons Cameron, now 3, and Alex, 1 (not pictured)Seattle, Washington
"I've been a cyclist most of my life, so 88bikes is something I really clicked with. The idea that you can bring that much more joy into a child's life with a bike is a great feeling. It gives them the ability to get out into the world, and that's a huge thing." Ian Pund
A majority of the Ghanaian orphans were former child slaves on Lake Volta, the largest man-made reservoir in the world, performing dangerous, even potentially deadly, tasks such as diving deep into the lake to untangle fishing nets. As soon as they received the bicycles they took off en masse on a ride into the African countryside surrounding their orphanage, enjoying the sense of freedom that comes with a bike.
Sally and Jonathan Krell, daughters Sadye, 5, and Amelia, 2Sullivan Island, South Carolina
"Our daughter Sadye has a framed picture in her room of the girl who received our bicycle donation. She loves to talk about how we gave her a bike and hear stories about Africa, and Sadye understands that while she loves riding her trike around, not everyone is as lucky." Sally Krell
Many of the Mongolian orphans and half-orphans must live in a school dormitory, miles away from their family. But the bikes have allowed them to reconnect with siblings and friends, making the distance much less of an obstacle.
Kay Lockwood and kids Cullen, 20, Patrick, 19, Bryn, 17, Mara 13, and Katherine, 7 (pictured)Wausau, Wisconsin
"The donation really had some meaning for me because we adopted our daughter Katherine from an orphanage in Ukraine. You can't give these kids parents or a home, but you can give them a bike of their very own." Kay Lockwood
Refugees of the Uganda civil war, many of the children in Patongo are raising their younger siblings because their parents were killed by rebels. Here, the bikes take on a practical element, helping kids transport food or get around town.
David and Tiffany Munk, son Moses, 2Portland, Oregon
"This is a donation that, unlike food or money, isn't going to disappear after a short period of time. I love that these children now have a tool to transport themselves, find freedom, and experience more out of life." David Munk
Global Gear Drive will help you clear out your garage and do good at the same time. The organization distributes sports and playground equipment as well as apparel to children in underprivileged communities and schools around the world. Box up your balls and bats and GGD will pay for any shipments that are less than $75; iays.org.
Pajama Program makes bedtime nicer for children in group homes and shelters across the U.S. by providing them with new pj's and books. It accepts cash donations and has a wish list set up on amazon.com to make giving even easier; pajamaprogram.org.
OneSight collects gently used specs and sunglasses to improve the vision of kids and adults across the globe, including in countries where a month's salary could equal the cost of a single pair of glasses; onesight.org.
Soles4Souls takes new and used shoe donations and sends them to people who desperately need footwear in more than 125 countries. You can also host a shoe drive to make an even larger impact; soles4souls.org.
Originally published in the May 2011 issue of Parents magazine.