#WORLD SENIOR CITIZENS DAY
Cycling Without Age (CWA) is a social movement originating in Copenhagen, Denmark and was launched in 2012 by Ole Kassow. The purpose of the organisation is to invite socially isolated seniors back into their local communities by engaging them in mutually beneficial and stimulating trishaw rides with volunteers (trishaws are also known as cycle rickshaws, bike taxi and tri-cycle taxi).
Ole wanted to help the elderly get back on their bicycles, but he had to find a solution to their limited mobility. The answer was a trishaw and he started offering free bike rides to the local nursing home residents.
Self-motivated volunteers called as ‘Pilots’ sign up for bike rides with the seniors. At present (2019) more than 1,600 chapter locations in 42 countries offer Cycling Without Age from well over 2,500 trishaws. More than 29,000 pilots ensure that the elderly get out of their nursing homes, out on the bikes to enjoy the fresh air and the community around them.
This meeting of generations provides a unique opportunity for the elderly to share their stories and experiences, which are often triggered by these trips out into the local environment. Ole’s initiative not only strengthens communities across generations, but it contributes to both physical and mental well-being of the elderly and volunteers, thus giving nursing homes and municipalities a golden opportunity to stimulate and promote health and mobility.
As a social change maker, a keen cyclist, and an experimental urban farmer Ole Kassow believes in challenging conventional thinking and in inspiring people and organisations to create a better world through focus on purpose, happiness and kindness. He received the Danish Community Award 2014 from the Danish Ministry of Employment for his initiative Cycling Without Age, the subject of his September 2014 TED Talk, and in 2017 he was the second Dane to become Ashoka Fellow, the world’s leading NGO for change-making and social entrepreneurship.
When did you first feel that Cycling could help overcome loneliness of Senior Citizens?
I think it actually started when I was 14 years old and I picked up my wheel chair bound dad from the dentist and pulled his wheel chair along side my bike, we both realised that this gave him a newfound access to his local community and was a great way of fighting the loneliness of immobility.
Old age confines individuals inside four walls but your initiative has given a fresh outlook to the elderly participants. Some interesting reactions or incidents you would like to share?
Our motto is “the right to wind in your hair”, this is a quote by a blind woman who said “I may not be able to see, but I can smell the flowers, hear the birds and feel the wind in my hair”. Another passenger had missed being mischievous and used the opportunity of a rickshaw ride to steal apples, something she hadn’t done since she was a little girl. Real life involves risk, serendipity and the full use of our senses.
Getting outdoors after a gap of many years, what changes have you observed in their behavior/health?
People become more social after going on rides, when you have new experiences, you have stories to share and that’s a way of connecting with others. A woman I used to ride with, wanted to interact with random people on the street and always created situations that would leave her alone at the side of the road so she could instigate conversation with those passing by. The nursing home staff have told us that passengers sleep better, have a better appetite, fewer conflicts and use less medicine following regular rickshaw rides.
There are many wheelchair users around the world, whats your take on making them fully inclusive in this idea to bring equality and inclusiveness in our societies?
We should design cities to be welcoming for people of all ages and levels of mobility, that’s what Gil Peñalosa is advocating for with his organisation 8-80 cities. If cities integrate the needs of an 8 year old and an 80 year old, they’re inclusive for everybody. We know that children spend up to 90% of their time inside, I believe it’s a symptom of society today, and it’s because our streets are off limits to pedestrians and cyclists.
In your talks you always say “People sing and share stories during the ride” How storytelling is helping build communities in countries where this program is active?
Storytelling is one of our guiding principles, because it’s crucial for seniors to feel they have new witnesses to their stories. It goes back to a sense of purpose that your life on this planet had some meaning and that what you experienced and learned can be passed on to future generations. I also find that almost every single elderly person I offer a ride, pays me back by offering me wonderful insights and wisdom.
You had organized an adventurous 250 km trip from Denmark to Norway with 20 elderly people on Trishaws, what were the high points of that journey?
We were all blown away and surprised by that trip. First of all, that so many people wanted to join even though it seemed like an outlandish thing to do. Quickly we realised that a long trip was even more impactful than regular rides in your own neighbourhood, for instance an elderly gentleman turned out to be a retired blacksmith and he was able to fix a trishaw that had broken down during the ride. We also found out that passengers who had taken their walking frames, suddenly forgot they needed one.
How ‘Citizen Volunteerism’ is helping to bridge generational gap?
We have a wonderful programme at CWA Singapore called “Moving Generations” which is about building relationships between youth and elderly people, but not in a way where volunteering becomes a charitable one-sided activity. This is also why we make a point of calling volunteers “pilots”. It’s an equal relationships, where both parties give and receive.
When is ‘Cycling Without Age’ coming to India?
We have to come to India, Cycling Without Age is relying on change makers across the world that are inspired by our principles and who will create a team around them to make social change happen. We don’t have an active chapter in India yet, but I think it will happen soon, if any of your readers are interested in starting a chapter, please let them know they can do so and find out more on cyclingwithoutage.org
For those interested in promoting cycling in general, Cycling Without Age is the trojan horse of cycling, nobody has any problem with volunteers cycling with elderly people at risk of isolation and it’s a chance to highlight all the benefits of cycling.
On the occasion of ‘World Senior Citizens Day’ whats your message to the global audience for the development and prosperity of our communities?
My message is that we are all change makers, and that if we all put on our “magic superhero glasses” we can achieve profound positive change in our societies. What I mean is that we all have the agency and power to reach out to our elderly neighbours. Chat to them, ask them their opinion, go for a bike ride, make them feel valuable. We all need to feel valued and useful. It gives us a sense of purpose.
Your future plans for Cycling without age?
I would like to see a world less based on making a profit and more based on our 5 guiding principles (generosity, relationships, storytelling, slowness, without age). I would like to make Cycling Without Age a platform for social change. An incubator for young people to learn about social entrepreneurship and realizing their own potential.
Eventually Cycling Without Age should be available to all seniors worldwide regardless of geography and demographics.
Ways to connect with Cycling Without Age:
Author: Vijay Malhotra, Mumbai