When Glendale teenager Sebouh Bazikian learned how orphans in Kenya had to walk an hour to school, he wanted to find a way to help make their lives a little easier.
For a year, Bazikian worked to raise about $5,000 to buy 43 new bicycles through the organization World Bike Relief, which delivered the bikes in August to the children at the Machao Orphanage in Makueni County, about 115 miles from the country's capital of Nairobi, the Glendale News-Press reports.
Bazikian traveled to Makueni to be there when the orphans received the bikes. He helped the older kids learn how to ride, holding on to their backs as they found their balance.
As the teens at the orphanage gained enough confidence on the bikes, Bazikian watched them teach the youngest of the children — age 6 — how to ride.
"That was probably one of my greatest experiences," he said. "I felt I was like their parent teaching them how to ride a bike."
The St. Francis High School senior learned about the poverty-stricken orphans' hourlong walks to school and their need for better transportation after his mother, Frieda Bazikian, spoke with her friend and fellow Glendale resident Carolyn Rowley, chief executive of a foundation that supports the Machao Orphanage.
Bazikian suggested donating bikes. The idea quickly turned into a promise.
"You always have to keep a promise, especially to children who have absolutely nothing," he said. "I wasn't going to flake out."
Bazikian used his blog, Bikes 4 Orphans, to solicit donations, and he reached out to family and friends. He also secured a $1,000 grant through the Pollination Project organization.
When he traveled to Makueni with Rowley last month, Bazkian walked with the children to their school in a neighboring village on a road littered with trash that the wind carried from a landfill just a few hundred feet from the orphanage.
"The walk was difficult, especially for 6- and 8-year-olds doing that walk. There were a decent amount of uphills," he added.
When the children took the same route on their new bicycles, Bazikian said they went to and from the orphanage in 15 minutes. One teen rode his bike to his job at a cellphone store.
Back in Glendale, Bazikian is continuing to raise money for bikes and has secured 20 more for kids at the Daos Children Centre in Kenya, which educates orphans in the Mombasa region.
In August, the Glendale Noon Rotary Club pledged to donate about $3,800 to pay for 32 additional bikes.
Bazikian plans to host a bike-a-thon as well as a hike-a-thon at the Glendale Sports Complex on Oct. 26, where participants can bicycle or hike the nearby trails and donate to the cause.
He is also encouraging other teens to follow his theme of combining passion with charity.
"We don't have to wait for adults to make a difference," he said.
More information: bikes4orphanages.blogspot.com.
Kelly Corrigan writes for Times Community News