Together with the bike, Cantal Bakker improves Moroccan lives
Willemijn de Koning
The bike was always her passion, so in Morocco she also chose cycling to get to know the pink city called Marrakech. “Can I buy it?” or “Can I go with you?” These were some of the reactions of the Moroccans when they saw her cycling. This made her wonder. “What can I do with my bike in this country to improve education and employment?” She invented Pikala Bikes and with this project she helps a lot of Moroccans.
Cantal Bakker walks around in her ‘riad’, the head office of Pikala Bikes. Two year ago she lived in Holland and taught immigrants and refugees how to use the bicycle. Now, she lives in Morocco, in the middle of the sun and she works again with what she loves the most. The bicycle! She looks at all the bikes around her. She received them a year ago for free; a donation of Amsterdam. It’s not the only gift she got, she also found a company to sponsor her with tools.
That was all the help she got when she started. In the beginning she was the only one who really believed in her project. “Nobody else thought I could make Moroccans cycle,” she laughs. She talked to a lot of people and organisations in Marrakech to start a base for cooperation. The city of Marrakech liked her ideas. When they organised art exhibitions around the city, Cantal came up with an idea. She wanted to give the visitors an opportunity to visit the art in the city on bicycle or ‘Pikala’ in Moroccan Arabic. This idea turned out to be a huge success and so Cantal established her vision in Marrakech. She visited schools, government offices and other organisations. She talked to people and sold her idea to young Moroccans to join the project. With the ‘Pikala’, she gave the youth an education and career.
In Morocco the ‘Pikala’ is not one of the common ways to transport yourself, like in West Europe. It is more a symbol of poverty. Because, why should one use a bicycle if you can afford a car. Together with her partner and support from Swiss and French people, she fights this concept in Morocco. She shows Moroccans how to use and repair the ‘Pikalas’. They even invented an authentic diploma to repair tires. The Pikala Project goes beyond repairing and riding. “I think it’s important to know that it doesn’t stop after repairing bicycles. We also teach them how to organise things. Where responsibility lies. How to express yourself in English. We saw that there was a strong need for the young Moroccan people to grow in these areas,” Cantal explains.
Now she teaches the young people to design their own tours, which will guide tourists to their favourite places in Marrakech. “We give them a lot of encouragement to come up with their own ideas, express themselves and most importantly; we listen to them.” she says.
The project culminated in November 2016 when the UN climate change conference COP22 took place in Marrakech. The Pikala Project offered free repairs of bikes on that day. This resulted in a queue so long, that the Moroccans themselves couldn’t comprehend it. “It was unbelievable!” This assured Cantal of the possibility of more sponsors. The thought of having Embassies and NGO’s onboard would give her the chance to pay the Moroccan people and thereby help the employment of the country.
“Easy guys!” she yells at her ‘protégés’. The team she has brought together today, consists of different people. A ‘rasta’ dread-locked-hair guy on his BMX. A British man who is head of repairs. A Moroccan who just graduated but decided to further his learning in this project. A girl from Marrakech who made it her life goal to promote the bike. And finally a young Moroccan boy who is just really happy to be able to be a part of the team.
Everyone is deliriously happy when they see the new bikes Cantal ordered from Amsterdam. This bike is called a group bike. There are seven individual seats and seven people can ride on one bike at the same time. Imagine a little circular bar in the middle with seats all around it. A mini carousel on wheels. Everyone faces each other when they cycle.
“These are the first group bicycles in Morocco!” Cantal exclaims proudly. “They are going to support us in eco-tourism. A local sits in the main seat, rides and watches out for traffic. Another can go into the middle of the bar and serve the other people seated on the bike something to drink or eat. Moroccan tea and cookies perhaps and tell them about the city.”
With the bikes and her young ‘protégés’, Cantal is going to take over Marrakech and hopefully the whole of Morocco will follow.
Willemijn de Koning is a young correspondent in Morocco and the region around it. She reports for radio and (online) newspapers, like Radio 1 in Belgium and Holland, Deutsche Welle and AD and Knack. Reach Willemijn at [email protected]