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Peace Through the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

January 18, 2011

  • News Image
    Project creators Jesse Schouboe B.A. '10, Sara Eichelberger B.A. '10, and David Willis B.A. '10.
  • News Image
    Young residents of Mekou.
  • News Image
    The villagers of Mekou gather around a tower of prayer flags to burn offerings and to discuss village issues, such as the building of the motorcycle repair shop.

Snow-capped mountains, alpine meadows, and sweeping vistas greet visitors to Mekou, a small Tibetan village in western China. Situated at an eleva-tion of 12,000 feet (above most tree lines), Mekou is a 10-hour journey from the nearest city. The villagers rely heavily on motorcycles to transport themselves, supplies, and medicine. When motorcycles break down—a frequent occurrence due to poor roads— villagers lose valuable time and money in traveling elsewhere to get them fixed.

Last summer, Sara Eichelberger B.A. ’10, Jesse Schouboe B.A. ’10, and David Willis B.A. ’10—with the help of Keith Dede, associate professor of Chinese— created a plan to build a motorcycle repair shop in the rural village. Their efforts were funded by a $10,000 grant from philanthropist Kathryn Wasserman Davis via the 100 Projects for Peace, a nationally competitive grants program. The project served a three-pronged purpose: making transportation of various goods and materials easier, connecting the village with surrounding towns, and giving children and families reliable access to schools. The three recent grads partnered with the Pen-tok Institute, a grassroots Tibetan initiative that special-izes in rural development efforts, to execute the project.

The plan was complicated. It involved transporting the supplies needed to build the shop through treach-erous mountain passes (one truck of supplies nearly plummeted down a ravine), training villagers in motorcycle repair, getting past the language barrier (both Eichelberger and Willis speak Mandarin, but no one in the village spoke Mandarin or English), and avoiding curious Chinese officials.

After a setback of nearly a month due to inclement weather, the Mekou motorcycle repair shop opened for business. It was quickly embraced by the Mekou villagers. Before returning to the United States, the Lewis & Clark team turned over the shop to two local mechanics.

“This project taught me that the only way to create targeted, meaningful change within a community is to work closely with local residents and experts, keep an open mind, and have fun while doing it,” says Eichel-berger. “Through teamwork and perseverance, we created new opportunities for nearly 800 villagers.”

—by Tony Pelton CAS ’11

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