One of the things that keeps impressing me over and over again while traveling in developing countries is the ingenuity of the people in creating big changes with little resources. This is certainly true of Guatemalan non-profit organization Maya Pedal that is changing lives with its “bicimaquinas” or “bike machines”. These bicimaquinas are essentially repurposed bicycles that harness pedal power into mixing, crushing, pumping and other tasks that would otherwise require more laborious hand power or electricity. Thanks to Maya Pedal, pedal power is making manual labour and household chores easier for those Guatemalans who can’t afford or access electricity and fuel, while simultaneously recycling waste and providing healthy exercise.
Ongoing innovation at Maya Pedal’s workshop
Maya Pedal first started in 1997 by manufacturing bicimaquinas that would grind corn for chicken feed. Since then Maya Pedal has developed 20 other models, ranging from concrete mixers and tile makers to washing machines. The design of the corn mill has improved significantly and it is still one of the most popular bicimaquinas, along with the kitchen blender and the water pump. There is even a bicimaquina that generates electricity and works well enough to watch TV – although you have to work for it if you want to see the end of that show.
Maya Pedal’s bicimaquinas are a great example of upcycling, or creating useful products out of unwanted waste, in this case old bicycles. Maya Pedal receives old bicycles as donations, and one recent example is the bicycle of a Canadian woman who cycled from Canada to Guatemala. But bicimaquinas are not just made of bicycles (requiring for example metal pipes) and some parts have to be bought. Sometimes useful parts are found at the dump, which is a further testament to Maya Pedal’s efforts in reusing waste.
The bicimaquinas are made to order, meaning that people request a bicimaquina which Maya Pedal then manufactures accordingly with the help of local staff and foreign volunteers. Depending on the client’s financial situation, the client pays either the full price of the bicimaquina or half. Sometimes people ask for something new, and Maya Pedal is constantly innovating and developing new models. If you want to make a bicimaquina yourself, there are free step-by-step instructions on Maya Pedal’s website.
Improving lives in rural Guatemala
In Guatemala, doing things manually is still the norm, and the purpose of pedal power is to provide an easier alternative to hand power. After countless times of mixing concrete with shovels and washing clothes by hand, I certainly appreciate the difference a pedal-powered concrete mixer or washing machine could make! Pedal power also increases productivity, which can improve business, raise incomes and lift people out of poverty. A great example of this is a businesswoman I met who is using the bicycle blender for making shampoo.
Most of Maya Pedal’s bicimaquinas are designed for household chores, especially in a rural setting where electricity is often too expensive or not even available. If a community buys three or more bicimaquinas, Maya Pedal also gives a workshop on how to use the bicimaquina. The bicimaquinas are designed for the local context which maximizes the positive social impact. Guatemalans eat a lot of corn for example, and apart from the corn mill, Maya Pedal also has a bicimaquina that removes the corn from the cob, and they are currently developing another model that grinds the leftover cob for easier composting. However, one of Maya Pedal’s most life changing models has to be the water pump that improves access to water in the villages.
Through this work Maya Pedal is showing Guatemalans that innovation and working with the local context is more important than making money to buy expensive equipment and electricity.