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Guelph bike fixer helps combat HIV/AIDS in Africa

In this edition of Mercy Traveller, Philip Maher tells us about Mary Rife who doesn't mind getting her hands dirty for a good cause

In an age where clicking likes on Facebook and Twitter has become the extent to which some reach beyond themselves, it is inspiring to find those who go further than click-activism to actually make a difference through volunteering and raising money. Mary Rife is one of those people. For nearly a decade, she has been raising thousands of dollars, helping Africa through her bike sales and repair enterprise located in south Guelph. 

“It started in 2010 when my elderly father started fixing bikes from our home. He was a fixer,” says Mary. 

From the beginning, Mary was working with her dad, getting her hands dirty repairing bikes. People would come by looking for the man who was fixing bikes and be surprised that it was a woman often doing the work. 

Mary’s father passed away five days before his 92nd birthday, but the fixing and selling of bikes that people donate continues. It has become a decade-long enterprise, giving the proceeds to the Stephen Lewis Foundation, an organization fighting the AIDS pandemic in 15 African countries. Stephen Lewis is an elder statesman known for his work as the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa. Coincidentally, Lewis was also in part the inspiration for Dr. Anne Marie Zajdlic, who founded Bracelet of Hope, another Guelph organization fighting HIV/AIDS in Africa. 

Mary was inspired to donate to the foundation after her various visits to developing countries with the Presbyterian Church. “I saw poverty in Latin America,” she says. But visiting hospitals in Malawi was the real turning point. “I saw two people per bed and some people sleeping on the floor. I was astonished.” 

Mary’s front-lawn bike sale has raised thousands of dollars for Africa. Each morning she lines 40 to 50 bikes of all sizes on her boulevard on Arkell Road, just east of Gordon, taking them in for the evening or during rainfall. Mary sells between 300 and 400 bikes each year. Prices range from 25 dollars for a kiddie bike to 150 dollars for an adult bike. That goes a long way to helping people living with AIDS. 

But Mary’s activism goes way beyond her bike repair and sales. This year she will host a Sudanese refugee family, the second refugee family she has sponsored. She has also fostered some 60 children in her life. In the spring, she holds a plant sale with proceeds going to charity. She is a force to be reckoned with. 

Mary’s story is inspiring and an example to us all. But in particular I find it inspiring that she has found a way through her bike project to help raise money. That really makes a difference.  In these days of dwindling donations and budgets, the truth is that charities need resources to do their job. Raising awareness of a problem is fine and people are usually willing to do it. But funding a solution to that problem is critical. Many people stop at awareness. Mary has completed the circle. Raising money for your cause is one of the most practical things a person can do to make a difference in this world. 

“If you go to a third-world country and see how people live, unless you have a heart of stone, you have to help. I was born here. People take living in Canada for granted. I just want to help,” says Mary. 

And help she does. If you want to buy a bike or have one repaired, you can usually find Mary or one of her volunteers sitting by her bikes on Arkell Road. She’s open most sunny days from mid-April to Nov. 1. Look for a lawn full of bikes.