CHATHAM, NJ – When most people think of Rwanda, they remember the genocide of 1994 that killed an estimated 800,000 people. But for Stephen Madden, thoughts of Rwanda are much more personal.
In December 2010, the Chatham resident traveled to the East African nation, where he spent a week with the charity he started in 2006, BikeTown Africa. The organization primarily donates bicycles to healthcare workers in Africa, particularly those involved in HIV/AIDS related work. BikeTown Africa is a partnership between Bicycling Magazine, where Madden was editor-in-chief; Rodale Press; Bristol Myers Squibb and Kona Bicycle Company.
Madden’s trip in 2010 proved not only to be a charitable opportunity but a personal and rewarding one.
He spent a day building bikes with a 16-year-old boy, who looked like a much younger child due to malnutrition and who didn’t even have an official name. The reason: His mother was raped by a gang of militia who killed her three brothers during the 1994 Hutu genocide that slaughtered some one million Rwandans. She considered having an abortion, but decided to give birth to her son, who she said says she takes care of but doesn’t love and didn’t name. During this trip to Rwanda, Madden said he started to see the boy through the same eyes as he sees his own son, whom he taught to ride a bike not too long before his trip.
Madden said this boy stood out to him because of his positive attitude, despite the situation he and his country were in.
He said the infrastructure of Rwanda was good, especially for an African country. Now with the bicycle donations from his charity, the healthcare providers have more mobility and others can get and keep their jobs.
Madden has done similar volunteer work in countries such as South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Senegal, Mozambique, Lesotho, Swaziland, Tanzania, Mali, and Afghanistan. Overall he has done a total of 12 projects in Africa and hopes to go back to Rwanda during the summer for a follow-up.
Madden’s story also appeared in the Reader’s Digest article, “Boy on a Bike.”