Creating education and job opportunities with bicycles for the local youth – it’s not what Cantal and Erik had in mind when visiting Marrakech for the first time. But while riding a bicycle through the historical centre of Marrakech, they not only fell in love with the city, they realized so much could be done for the local youth regarding employment, education ánd the environment. They started Pikala Bikes – creating many opportunities for the youth of Marrakech.
Tell us more about Pikala Bikes
Pikala believes that the bicycle is a key to create more healthy and sustainable cities. We set up bicycle centers in Morocco where we create education and job opportunities for the youth. Besides that, we raise environmental awareness among the local population.
Who founded Pikala Bikes?
Pikala Bikes was founded by Cantal Bakker & Erik van Heijningen. I, Cantal, did arts-school and was involved in event management until I turned my life up side down to realize my inspiration to make people cycle in Marrakech. I put all my personal money into the adventure, left everything behind in the Netherlands and started Pikala
with just one bicycle. Erik does TV-production and lives in Amsterdam. He frequently comes to Marrakech to help Pikala to develop its commercial activities, takes in charge the communication of the project and
provides professional trainings to the team. Today Pikala consist out of a big team of over 30 people, who work
together to make Pikala flourish!
What inspired you to start Pikala Bikes?
Inspiration is magical. I had never imagined to start a bicycle project in Morocco. It’s those extremely rare moments where parts of the puzzle seem to fall together. Born in the Netherlands I have spent many hours on my bicycle. Going to school, sport and friends. The bicycle is the most common thing, you use it every day. It’s like wearing clothes. As a teenager I discovered the importance of the bicycle for social participation. I gave cycling classes to women immigrants and refugees. Already after 3 classes these ladies felt so much more independent, free and physically strong. Suddenly they felt that they integrated in our Dutch culture. This was a valuable experience at a young age.
When I was visiting Morocco for holidays in 2015 cycling was the craziest and most fun thing we had done. I was together with my boyfriend Erik van Heijningen and we were visiting Marrakech for the first time. Marrakech is beautiful city, and very overwhelming. After spending a few days in the touristic historical centre of Marrakech we, Erik and I, wanted to discover more of the city and to have real exchange with the locals.
Coming from the Netherlands we automatically find our freedom and mobility in a bicycle. But it was very difficult to find a place in Marrakech to rent a bicycle. A man in the street lent us his bike and together on 1 bicycle we went off. The moment we started cycling, the city dynamics changed. We were suddenly merging into all the chaos!
It was amazing how we discovered a complete different experience of Marrakech. People were no longer approaching us as tourists, we had kids running after us and we discovered lots of different neighborhoods and sights where no tourists was to be found.
This experience gave me the enthusiasm to share this experience with other visitors of Marrakech. Simultaneously while cycling, I could also see the social difficulties the city is facing. I saw kids that were not attending school, youth hanging out on the streets without a job and a lot of pollution due to badly maintained scooters and old taxies.
It felt like i could see a puzzle falling into place. We could take tourists for a cultural bicycle tour, this would create local job-opportunities and it could finance education programs for kids and raise environmental awareness.
I would never expect that a bicycle ride would completely change my life.
In what way does Pikala Bikes contribute to the wellbeing of the local youth?
For the youth, a bicycle stands for empowerment, mobility, education and job creation. Pikala is a platform for the youth that gives them the opportunity to gain professional experiences – giving them tools that they can use in
their future activities. Pikala offers educative trainings for youth on the level of mechanics, roads safety and cycling classes for girls. The training program on mechanic is focused on NEET youth (not in education, employment or training) to help them towards a better future. They follow a 8 month formation with mechanics as the main subject, but we also provide English, personal development and entrepreneurship.
On the level of employment we train the youth to gain professional experience to be a bicycle guide, a bicycle mechanics, bicycle deliverer or to be part of the project management. We have over 30 youngsters working with Pikala. Together we try, develop, error and improve our social impact and general operation.
You have come a long way, what are you most proud of so far?
I have put a little grain, a small idea, and it’s magical to see that it transformed into a vital concept. Pikala is extremely divers, it grows and blossoms within the Moroccan cultural context. And since we grow organically I also cannot prevent the outcomes of the project. I’m extremely proud to see how we are able to work with such a diversity
of people, in an industrial hangar in the middel of the heart of Marrakech.
What’s your mission with Pikala Bikes?
Pikala aims to become a bicycle-concept that is applicable in many different cities over Africa. We are currently expanding to two other cities in Morocco and hopefully by 2024 we will be able to set foot abroad.