The big story

In an area once la­belled the ‘worst place to be a child’ by theUnited Na­tions, Dubai-based busi­ness­man, phi­lan­thropist and more re­cently film di­rec­tor, Dr Ahmed Sam­erai, de­cided to high­light the life-chang­ing ben­e­fits a sim­ple bi­cy­cle can bring to the wor

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The sim­ple bike has the power to change lives in Uganda.

Jendyose kicked the small grey rock with her scuffed, scorched san­dal and watched as a small mush­room of dried mud rose un­der its weight. Squint­ing in the early morn­ing sun, she scoured the ground for an­other source of en­ter­tain­ment to di­vert her from the monotony of her daily pas­sage. She failed to find any­thing to amuse her and so, sigh­ing, picked up pace through the parched Ugan­dan Karamoja plains, the sur­round­ing sa­van­nah with its end­less thorned plants and spiny aca­cia trees giv­ing the small-framed 10-year-old lit­tle re­prieve.

Jendyose knew that it would be sev­eral hours more be­fore she

reached her daily des­ti­na­tion, the near­est wa­ter­hole that would of­fer her a scant buck­et­ful with which to re­turn. For the hun­dredth time she wished she was stur­dier and stronger so she could carry more, faster, for al­though young, Jendyose un­der­stood she should be in school learn­ing to read and write. But with the long daily jour­ney for wa­ter and the four-hour 20km walk to the near­est school, she also recog­nised that her choice lay be­tween wa­ter for sur­vival and the lux­ury of an ed­u­ca­tion.

In a land far re­moved from the cat­tle-herd­ing no­mads and drought-scarred sub re­gion, Fay Sam­erai cy­cled around Dubai’s Green Com­mu­nity where laugh­ter filled the air of the lush, green sur­round­ings and in­ter­mit­tent foun­tains pro­duced the soft sound of cas­cad­ing wa­ter.

At 10 years old, the same age as Jendyose, Fay had fin­ished school for the day and, hav­ing hastily dropped her bag at home, was now en­joy­ing a ride on her brand new yel­low bike. Stop­ping to ca­su­ally ‘park’ her bi­cy­cle next to her friends’ on the floor, she ran with the group to the park to play. But what is sim­ply a toy to those born into for­tune is an end­less pos­si­bil­ity for those born into poverty.

It is this in­equal­ity that would later in­spire the daugh­ter of Dubai-based busi­ness­man Dr Ahmed Sam­erai to do­nate that yel­low bike to a lit­tle girl with whom she shared noth­ing but age. While Fay had ac­cess to qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion and health­care, a com­fort­able lov­ing home, run­ning wa­ter and a well­stocked fridge, Jendyose, whose fa­ther passed away leav­ing her two broth­ers as bread­win­ners, lived be­low the poverty line in a wooden hut.

Prompted by the en­deav­ours of her fa­ther’s foun­da­tion and learn­ing of the lives of those less for­tu­nate than her­self, the young but com­pas­sion­ate Fay would give her bike as a gift to Jendyose and in so do­ing, trans­form the lives of this ru­ral fam­ily of seven.

The dis­par­ity be­tween the haves and have nots and the ease with which people can change lives, is the un­der­ly­ing mes­sage of en­tre­pre­neur and phi­lan­thropist, Dr Sam­erai’s first foray into film, The Story of One Yel­low Bike.

This short docu-drama high­lights the work of aid or­gan­i­sa­tion Bi­cy­cles for Hu­man­ity (B4H) and in so do­ing en­cour­ages the priv­i­leged youth of to­day to re­lin­quish some­thing small for the greater good.

At 15 min­utes long, the mes­sage is sim­ple; in priv­i­leged parts of the world a bi­cy­cle for chil­dren of Fay’s age is a toy, a source of amuse­ment, a method of trans­port to roam freely be­tween neigh­bour­hoods. In parts of the world like Uganda how­ever, a bi­cy­cle can make the dif­fer­ence be­tween life and death. With the ca­pac­ity to cut jour­ney lengths by

half, a bi­cy­cle can al­low a child like Jendyose to col­lect wa­ter and at­tend school, it can al­low an HIV-pos­i­tive pa­tient to travel the 40km dis­tance to the near­est health cen­tre, and it can al­low ru­ral farm­ers to jour­ney to mar­kets where they can sell goods at fair prices. Ul­ti­mately, a bike can trans­form lives.

“Many people don’t un­der­stand the real value of a bike,” Dr Sam­erai says. “Per­son­ally, I didn’t ei­ther, un­til I got in­volved in this project by sup­port­ing Bi­cy­cles for Hu­man­ity. Now I know bi­cy­cles help chil­dren go to school, they help doc­tors make more fre­quent vis­its to pa­tients in re­mote vil­lages, and people can send their prod­ucts to a larger mar­ket, thereby gain­ing bet­ter re­wards.”

The Iraqi-born fa­ther of four’s doc­u­men­tary high­lights this dif­fer­ence by doc­u­ment­ing the jour­ney of one lit­tle girl’s yel­low bi­cy­cle from the glitzy high-rises of Dubai to the con­i­cal nat­u­ral fi­bre huts of Uganda. From ship, to train, to truck, the bi­cy­cle makes its way from Jebel Ali, to the sea­port of Dar es Salaam in Tan­za­nia, to the Ugan­dan cap­i­tal Kam­pala, and then n via t the lo­cally la­belled Road of Death to the re­mote plains of Karamoja ramoja and its lo­cal town Abim.

A ref­er­ence to the Road of Death in this short film is not un­in­ten­tional, for the name harks back to a time in re­cent his­tory that still haunts Uganda eco­nom­i­cally and emo­tion­ally; a coun­try that to­day still bat­tles the ghosts of civil wars, dic­ta­tor­ships and geno­cide. For

de­spite sev­eral years of peace, Uganda re­mains syn­ony­mous with the reigns of Idi Amin and Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Re­sis­tance Army (LRA), pe­ri­ods of ter­ror that al­though quelled in 2006, have left deep-rooted scars. De­spite its short time frame, The

Story of One Yel­low Bike does not shy away from Uganda’s tragic past. In fact the na­tion’s his­tory is the ba­sis for its cur­rent need and in a min­i­mal view­ing pe­riod, priv­i­leged au­di­ences will be left with a lon­glast­ing re­minder of the tragedies that un­folded in a coun­try some mere four hours’ flight away.

“To be hon­est, many of us have be­come spoiled liv­ing in Dubai,” Dr Sam­erai says. “It’s a great city, ev­ery­thing is of the high­est stan­dard, it’s clean, com­fort­able and safe but some­times people who live here need re­minders of how other parts of the world live. I be­lieve that Uganda – and many other coun­tries – needs at­ten­tion, help and sup­port. People like us may be un­able to change pol­i­tics or con­flicts, but if we try to help the people, then we might help to re­duce the im­pact of con­flict.”

Star­tling im­ages are in­cluded in this film of the 60,000 or so chil­dren who were ab­ducted by the LRA to serve as child soldiers or as flesh trade slaves over a pe­riod span­ning 20 years. It high­lights that to­day many Ugan­dans still suf­fer the trauma from the era of bru­tal op­pres­sion and al­though in vil­lages across the coun­try people are re­gain­ing trust in one an­other and set­tling back into com­mu­nal liv­ing, many of the ar­eas lie re­mote and unas­sisted. In these iso­lated ar­eas people have lit­tle ac­cess to wa­ter, san­i­ta­tion, health care or ed­u­ca­tion and the need for mo­bil­ity is clear. As Bi­cy­cles for Hu­man­ity founder Pat Mon­tani says, “Mo­bil­ity is the first step to a bet­ter life for all in the de­vel­op­ing world. Imag­ine your life in Dubai with­out any cars, trucks or buses. If ev­ery­one walked, noth­ing would get done. The area we send bikes to [Abim] has noth­ing – no roads, no elec­tric­ity, no econ­omy, it re­ally is the end of the earth and ev­ery­one walks, they sim­ply need help.”

It was while trav­el­ling along­side ac­tor and co­me­dian Ben Stiller, vis­it­ing the Hol­ly­wood star’s foun­da­tion to build schools in Haiti, a coun­try still suf­fer­ing the dire con­se­quences of a 2009 earthquake, that Dr Sam­erai learnt of Bi­cy­cles for Hu­man­ity, an or­gan­i­sa­tion that pro­vides ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties around the world with the gift of mo­bil­ity.

With a de­sire to help pop­u­la­tions close to the Mena re­gion, he chose to fur­ther in­ves­ti­gate Ben’s rec­om­men­da­tion.

“I knew I wanted to help, but Haiti was so far away,” he says. “I wanted some­where nearer to Dubai so Ben sug­gested the B4H or­gan­i­sa­tion in Uganda that he works with. He in­tro­duced me to the founders and things rolled out from there.

“There are so many projects that need as­sis­tance in Africa but this came on Ben’s rec­om­men­da­tion and I know and re­spect the work he car­ries out in Haiti build­ing schools and re­build­ing lives.”

Meet­ing with the char­ity’s di­rec­tor in Uganda, Dr Sam­erai was moved by the plight of the coun­try’s poor.

“I was sad see­ing the pic­tures of chil­dren car­ry­ing guns, killing people and liv­ing in the jun­gle,” he says dur­ing the movie.

“I feel like chil­dren should be in school learn­ing, play­ing games like all other chil­dren the world over, they shouldn’t be treated dif­fer­ently.”

With four chil­dren of his own, one of whom has just spent nine weeks build­ing schools in Eritrea, Dr Sam­erai felt com­pelled to help. Sit­ting his youngest daugh­ter down, he ex­plained to Fay the dif­fer­ence be­tween the life she had the good for­tune to be leading and that of her coun­ter­parts in Uganda and ex­plained that he would be help­ing some of the chil­dren by send­ing them bi­cy­cles.

Fay im­me­di­ately vol­un­teered to do­nate her own beloved yel­low bike, a move Dr Sam­erai felt was wor­thy of high­light­ing. De­cid­ing to

doc­u­ment the ven­ture in a short movie rather than just post­ing a small sec­tion on his web­site, he set about cre­at­ing a vis­ually com­pelling and ed­u­ca­tional tool, aimed at help­ing people of all ages un­der­stand the im­por­tance of mo­bil­ity in some of the world’s most re­mote lo­ca­tions.

“Doc­u­ment­ing her ac­tions and the dif­fer­ence a bike makes helps in many ways,” he says. “Hope­fully it will show people that some­thing as lit­tle as an old used bike can change a per­son’s life in Africa. You don’t need to be rich to give to oth­ers.”

As the founder of the Sam­erai Foun­da­tion, the phil­an­thropic arm of his Sa­hara Group, con­sid­ered one of the most ac­tive PR firms in the Mid­dle East, Dr Sam­erai is no new­comer to char­i­ta­ble work.

Since 2004 and the launch of his foun­da­tion, the 43-year-old has been ac­tively en­gaged with pro­grammes rang­ing from Green Peace ini­tia­tives to pro­vid­ing school fees for un­der­priv­i­leged chil­dren in the Mid­dle East. How­ever, as a doc­tor of eco­nom­ics, he cer­tainly had up un­til that point no ex­pe­ri­ence in di­rect­ing or pro­duc­ing. “This was my first ven­ture when it came to doc­u­ment­ing,” he says. “I stud­ied physics at univer­sity. I knew noth­ing about film-mak­ing but I knew the mes­sage would be stronger if it was vis­ual. If I told people I had sent over 1,000 bikes to Africa I would get hardly any re­sponse, when you sud­denly put it on screen and re­ally show people what it takes and what the people are go­ing through, then you can have im­pact.”

Since re­lay­ing the jour­ney of Fay’s yel­low bike, Dr Sam­erai’s foun­da­tion has not only fi­nanced the movie with no pro­ceeds (char­i­ta­ble or other­wise) to be gained from the film, but also do­nated 1,500 bikes to Ugan­dan com­mu­ni­ties in sup­port of B4H. Al­though launched in Dubai’s Reel Cin­e­mas on Fe­bru­ary 10, The Story of One Yel­low

Bike is now avail­able free to view on YouTube.

“I don’t look to make money from my movies,” he says. “Putting them on YouTube will spread the mes­sage more widely, more people will watch it. Al­though I hope they fo­cus on the over­all mes­sage and not the de­tails, we are not an ac­tion or drama movie.

“We just wanted to get the mes­sage into the minds of people for as long as pos­si­ble.”

He also in­tends to take the film into schools as a teach­ing tool na­tion­ally and re­gion­ally with a view to en­gag­ing chil­dren and teach­ing them about the big dif­fer­ence a lit­tle mo­bil­ity can make.

“As adults, we have done a good job of cre­at­ing wars and con­flicts in one way or an­other,” he says. “Look at Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Ye­men, Tu­nisia, Libya… It is a long list which sadly continues to grow. I be­lieve kids have cleaner hearts and emo­tions, when they give some­thing; they give it from their hearts.

“If we as adults could be­have like chil­dren, we would be liv­ing in a safer world. Let us give them the chance to give, and we will see much bet­ter re­sults.”

W ith the suc­cess of One Yel­low Bike, Dr Sam­erai in­tends to keep on cre­at­ing mini movies that make a dif­fer­ence to the Jendyoses of this world. A girl who, given the gift of a yel­low bi­cy­cle, is able to ful­fil her dreams of go­ing to school and who hopes of one day vis­it­ing Dubai.

“I am happy with this bi­cy­cle, I would like to thank ev­ery­one who sent me this bi­cy­cle and other bikes to my friends.”

She adds with a smile, “I haven’t been to a main city un­til now, but… [if] you want to in­vite me to your coun­try, if my mother lets me go then I will come.”

A sign of the lit­tle girl’s age and her right, like all chil­dren across the world, to have not only an ed­u­ca­tion but the chance to sim­ply be a child.

One small yel­low bike makes a big dif­fer­ence to a vil­lage in Uganda

Fay Sam­erai gives Jendyose her yel­low bike, bright­en­ing the lit­tle girl’s life

The gift of a bi­cy­cle can be life chang­ing

Dr Sam­erai with chil­dren who can now cy­cle to school

Bi­cy­cles for Hu­man­ity is chang­ing lives in Uganda

Bi­cy­cles mean chil­dren can carry wa­ter and at­tend school

Fay’s yel­low bike will change the life of an en­tire fam­ily

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