Collaborating for Change – The REACH Repair Shop

By Penélope Guevara & Sean Sey

In the midst of the challenging times brought on by the 2020 pandemic, an unexpected initiative took root within our program’s offerings.  

The REACH Repair Shop program emerged with a simple yet powerful mission: to assist our families in repairing their bicycles for free, providing them with reliable transportation to drive their daily lives, particularly in their journey to work or school.  

In 2020, the world faced unprecedented challenges with closures and red zone areas, leaving vulnerable communities in particularly harsh circumstances. Many struggled to earn enough money to meet their basic needs, and repairing their bicycles became a financial burden. Recognising the critical link between transportation and work, our team knew we had to take action.  

Three years have passed since the inception of this program, and the impact it has made remains as profound as ever. Guided by the principles of repair, refurbish, and rebuild, the REACH Repair Shop continues to act as a beacon of support for our families and students, offering a lifeline in the form of functional and safe bicycles. 

In 2021, we expanded the program into an educational facility, developing and introducing a comprehensive 6-month course. With a detailed booklet with 32 lesson plans, this curriculum guides our students through the step-by-step process of repairing their city bikes. By combining theoretical knowledge with hands-on practical lessons, the classes offer a holistic learning experience. 
The students that benefit from this program include the REACH Role Model kids, who learn in the shop 4 hours per week, as well as some of our older Youth Pathways students, who volunteer their time to community repairs on the weekends for additional credit within the program. 

The REACH Repair Shop teaches our students how to refurbish, repair and recycle bicycles in support of their community.

After piloting the 6-month course, with long-term sustainability in mind, as a passionate desire to share these resources further, our Repair Shop team embarked on the mission to create a series of technical training videos so that kids could self-study the end-to-end repair of their own city bike from start to finish. 
With 1-2 videos corresponding to each of the lesson plans within the curriculum, a total of 32 videos were filmed, edited and completed with subtitles. With a total of 140 minutes in the gallery, this was no small feat. 

This digital revamp of the course took our team and international volunteers 6 months to complete. There was no shortage of re-shoots, and there were countless hours spent on subtitle revisions… but the end product was worth it! 

REACH Repair Shop Mechanic, Polin, while showing our YouTube channel during a lesson.

The completed videos are now available as a series on our YouTube channel; they serve as a powerful educational tool for our students to review their lessons at their own pace, and our team can now share their skills far and wide with other members of the community. 

As the REACH Repair Shop program has grown and thrived over the years, we have witnessed the impact it has made on our community. With this growth, our program’s goals have naturally expanded, now encompassing a vital aspect: fostering the development of young leaders and promoting community support. 

Recognising the potential in our students, we have taken proactive steps to empower them as agents of change. Through targeted outreach initiatives and collaborations with other NGOs, our team has provided them with opportunities to engage in meaningful community service projects, leveraging their newly acquired skills and knowledge. 

Through these initiatives, we have been able to extend our support and repair services to a wider audience, showcasing the true power of collaboration and collective action. 

To date, we are proud to have joined 13 community bike repair workshops, where our team and students have come together to provide their expertise and skills in repairing bicycles. Through these outreach efforts, our students have successfully repaired and restored more than 1,000 bikes, ensuring that members of our community have access to safe and reliable means of transportation. 

PLF donated pre-loved bikes to the REACH Repair Shop Program.

These community outreach workshops have not only allowed us to address the immediate needs of individuals but have also fostered a stronger sense of unity and camaraderie within our community. By working together and sharing our knowledge, we have created a network of support where everyone has a role to play in building a more resilient and inclusive community while also developing the leadership skills of our youth in the program.

Uniting forces with the students from CRST to repair the bicycles of the Cambodian community.

For the most part, our community bike repair days have been within Siem Reap province, but in our most recent collaboration with the Southeast Asia Foundation, the REACH Repair Shop embarked on a journey 375 kilometres away from our centre! 
Their mission was in Koh Pdao, an island located in the Mekong River, Kratie province, home to approximately 2,000 residents, the island is well known for its still-existing freshwater dolphins living in the Mekong River. Their goal for their trip was to support the villagers in repairing their bicycles so that they could resume their Eco-Tourism tours post-COVID.  

The REACH Repair Shop team, Polin, Sey & Vun during their trip to Koh Pdov.

The 3-day trip was an immensely rewarding experience for the team. Each day brought new insights and learnings as they worked alongside a dedicated team of overseas volunteers from The School for Fields Studies Cambodia, all committed to helping fix the bicycles of the community.  

Sey, our Mechanic Assistant, shares his reflection on the experience below: 

“Kohpdov Island boasts four villages, making it a sizable community in Cambodia. From the moment I stepped foot on the island, the warmth and friendliness of the locals were immediate, as everyone knew the reason why the REACH team was there… to help fix the community’s bicycles!  

On the first day, Polin (REACH Mechanic), Vun (Senior intern at the REACH Repair Shop) and I had a promising start as we arrived at Kohpdov Island around 3 o’clock and wasted no time in getting to work. We commenced fixing bikes, and by the end of the day, we had successfully repaired one. It might seem like a small victory, but maintaining bicycles in optimal condition can be a hard task, especially in an island setting where the weather is unpredictable and resources are scarce. On islands like Kohpdov, extreme weather conditions and the lack of mechanic shops and tools present unique challenges to bike maintenance. 

Another crucial aspect to consider is the limited access to communication and infrastructure on the island. Large portions of the island suffer from a lack of phone service, internet connectivity, and reliable electricity. These challenges create additional obstacles for the community, as they have limited means to communicate and seek help for vehicle repairs. Adding the fact that the islanders cannot easily access the mainland for regular repairs due to logistical constraints. 

After a successful start, the REACH team, the mechanic from the island, and I shared a meal, allowing us to bond and establish connections. The opportunity to learn about each other’s backgrounds and aspirations created a sense of camaraderie. 

The following day, a big rain slowed our progress as we couldn’t do much due to the downpour; however, once the weather began to ease, we were all determined to help the community as much as possible, so we tackled the day’s task of fixing bikes. Over the course of the day, our team repaired 12 bikes! At the same time, we took the opportunity to teach local mechanics our experience with repairing bikes. We provided clearer insights into the intricacies of bike repairs and tips on how to maintain them. As the day ended, the community organized a delicious dinner, accompanied by a heartfelt traditional performance with music and dance from the children of the community.  

On our final day at Kohpdov Island, the REACH team was determined to support the community as much as possible, so we strived to make the most of our remaining time, successfully fixing 9 more bikes. As dusk settled, we bid farewell to the island’s residents, grateful for their hospitality and the meaningful connections we had forged. Although we were unable to repair all 31 bikes due to the weather, as it rained during the morning, we stayed there. Still, the sense of achievement was palpable, with a total of 22 bikes restored to their former glory to benefit the community of Kohpdov Island! 

Once I jumped on the bus back to Siem Reap, I reflected on different aspects of our experience. This community outreach trip allowed me to compare the similarities between the island’s residents and the people in my own village, bridging the gap between different communities. By embracing cultural differences and appreciating the similarities, we build bridges of understanding and unity.  

This was my first time outside my own province and seeing the beautiful landscapes of the Mekong River, rural villages and bridges. This experience has encouraged me to continue exploring new places and cultures, finding connections and embracing the vibrancy of our world. 

Finally, we have completed a commendable task, and I would like to express my deep appreciation to my team and the other team for their invaluable assistance. I am truly delighted to have had the opportunity to work together and collaborate with the other NGOs and individuals involved. Overall, I would like to extend my gratitude to Reach and SE Asia Foundation for their support.” 

This collaborative experience presented numerous opportunities for personal growth and cultural immersion to our team. By strengthening connections with like-minded NGOs, our team has had the opportunity to assist the Cambodian community even further.  

The REACH Repair Shop program’s journey, from its humble beginnings to its present-day impact, is a testament to the power of community, compassion, and collective action.  
What started as a response to the hardships faced during the COVID-19 pandemic has blossomed into a transformative force that extends far beyond bicycle repairs. 

The REACH Repair Program is proudly sponsored by Delta Capita.
Thanks to their annual sponsorship, we have been able to create a unique program that not only benefits the community but also provides valuable skill-building opportunities to our students. Through the REACH Repair Shop, we are actively supporting the local community by offering free repair services to those in need.

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