Wednesday 17 July 2019

Chain gang: Prisoners help restore bikes to send to Africa

Bettering themselves: Prisoners at Loughan House in Cavan repair second-hand bicycles destined for Africa at the open prison. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Bettering themselves: Prisoners at Loughan House in Cavan repair second-hand bicycles destined for Africa at the open prison. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Aoife Walsh

Irish prisoners are helping repair bikes to provide transport for African children struggling to make their way to and from school.

The initiative - supported by the Irish Prison Service, local councils and the Irish Defence Forces - has so far sent more than 3,000 bikes to The Gambia.

The scheme is run within Loughan House, Co Cavan, a low-security "open prison" facility which houses male offenders over the age of 18.

It focuses on helping the rehabilitation of inmates through educational and training programmes.

Prisoners are also given the opportunity to work in the polytunnels, where more than 4,000 sunflowers are grown each year. And there is also the option of working in the café which overlooks Lough MacNean.

Joe and Derek spend their days working in the bike repair shop on the grounds.

From Monday to Friday, the repairmen work on hundreds of broken-down bikes sent to them through collection points set up by Rotary Ireland. Once they have fixed enough bikes to fill a lorry, the vehicles are sent to The Gambia in west Africa, where children living 5km or farther from school are gifted a bike.

Both Joe and Derek say that working in the bike shop "keeps your mind going", and makes the days go by quicker.

"I did break the law," said Joe. "I deserved a prison sentence. But, I also should be allowed to better myself within prison."

The initiative supports prisoners undertaking bike mechanic training courses which are Fetac and City & Guilds approved.

Irish Independent

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