Life in High Gear: Leah Missbach Day
“The first time I spoke to these students, I couldn’t believe my ears,” she said. “These girls were speaking like Melinda Gates, saying things like ‘A girl child can do what a boy child can do.”
She is Leah Missbach Day.
And let us tell you, she can absolutely do what any boy child can do. In fact, maybe even more.
Back in May, we were sitting at our computers marveling at a website. Stunning photos of Zambian terrain and gorgeous faces of bright-eyed students stared back at us.
We looked up her office and saw it was within walking distance. Yes, the organization’s nucleus that had been impacting 1.5 million lives globally without us knowing, just blocks away.
Leah is the proud co-founder of World Bicycle Relief; mobilizing students, caretakers, families and communities through the power of bicycles. She came to us through a friend who was influenced by her work so much she had to connect us.
And since those days this past summer, a whirlwind of change has swirled. No longer do we know Leah simply by her website photo. And no longer does she live in Chicago (but we were quick enough to catch her before she left!)
If there’s any indication of a boundary-pushing non-profit, it may as well be an indoor bicycle track running through the office. Definitely not your average organization, (which is perfect, because we don’t share average stories).
“This is the Buffalo Bicycle” she pointed to us in our meeting with her. Its thick tires were made especially for navigating rugged terrain. The back was suited to hold heavy baskets of food and supplies. And, after countless editions, the frame was now gender-neutral, since so many women were asking for “male” bicycle models.
We’re from Chicago, so we see a lot of bikes, but we had never seen a bike more stunning than this. Its physical beauty, its purpose, and its story which had surfaced through waves of ups and downs.
After the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami left thousands of families motionless across Sri Lanka and surrounding areas, Leah and her husband, F.K. Day, were in a unique position to help. Their joint expertise in sustainable transportation led to a solution that helped locals during the recovery process without hindering them. Soon, residents were getting back on their feet by way of 24,000 pairs of pedals provided by the Days.
12 years later, Leah’s transcendent vision has placed independence and power into local hands in more than 18 countries. Bicycles are earned, not handed out. Jobs are created, not taken. Safety concerns lessen, and possibilities flourish.
Oh, and forget “hands-on” management styles. It’s Leah’s own feet on the ground that help pave the way. A fellow artist and documentarian, she sees the lives of those who she impacts through an eye all her own.
“All answers lie in the field,” she often says.
Where there’s a need, she goes. And she often takes her family with her. This time, she’s traded an urban jungle loft with parking for a home in Kenya – which comes complete with a cat, dog, and chickens.
We may need more than two wheels to keep up with her. There’s certainly a way to find out.
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