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Monday, November 19 , 2018, 12:30 am | Fog/Mist 49º

 
 
 
 

Santa Barbara Middle School Grad Brings Bikes to Rwanda

Jacon Seigel-Boettner helps provide Rwandan farmers with transportation for coffee crops.

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Applying the lessons he learned as a student at Santa Barbara Middle School, Jacob Seigel-Boettner is confronting the challenge of his young lifetime with a realistic solution and the confidence to act.

Seigel-Boettner, now 22, credits Santa Barbara Middle School’s “diamond education” approach, with its fours sides of academics, athletics and creative arts, community involvement and outdoor education. He praises the school’s mandatory mountain biking, kayaking and backpacking trips for building character and showing him the impressive distances one can travel with just two wheels and determination.

Now he’s putting his experience to use in war-torn Rwanda, where he’s hard at work establishing bicycle repair shops in its poorest rural areas. Seigel-Boettner’s contribution is all part of a global effort by several nonprofits organizations such as Project Rwanda to create hand-built wooden bikes. The vehicles are commonly used by coffee farmers to more efficiently transport their harvest to market, and thus help in the development of the country.

“As a student at the Santa Barbara Middle School, where cycling trips are a central part of the academic experience, I learned about self-sufficiency," Seigel-Boettner said. “Just as the bicycle is crucial to the curriculum at SBMS, it is essential in the daily life of the Rwandan coffee farmers. By making new bicycles available to them through a micro financing program, they continue to play a key role in rebuilding their country’s economy.”

Santa Barbara Middle School, 2300-A Garden St., is the only local coed independent school focusing on the middle school years, with a strong emphasis on hands-on or experiential learning. Recently, its sixth- through ninth-grade students held their second annual Ride 4 Rwanda bike-a-thon, which was organized by Seigel-Boettner to raise public awareness and funds for the plight of the Rwandan farmers.

Led by mountain bike industry pioneer Tom Ritchey, the school’s faculty, students and their family members brought in more than $5,500 for the central African nation, still reeling from nearly 60 years of intermittent war and an episode of devastating genocide in 1994. Prior to the Ride 4 Rwanda event, Ritchey inspired students with an impromptu pep talk, drawing on his nearly 30 years’ worth of experience biking around the world.

“If I had been lucky enough to attend Santa Barbara Middle School myself, I think I would have recognized much sooner the impact that each one of us can have, and should have, in being good global citizens,” Ritchey said, his voice filled with emotion.

“I’ve spent most of my life devoted to the sport and I love and my business. Now I have the opportunity to use them both to contribute to wonderful causes like Bike 4 Rwanda and Project Rwanda.”

Later that evening, participants celebrated at the 23rd Santa Barbara International Film Festival where reporters from the school’s student newspaper, Teen Press, presented actress Angelina Jolie and husband Brad Pitt with Project Rwanda bike jerseys and conducted an exclusive interview with the couple on the red carpet of the Arlington Theatre.

“Our Ride 4 Rwanda event is a natural for Santa Barbara Middle School as our curriculum combines excellent academics with bike riding to explore the environment, increase our students’ confidence in themselves, and expand learning,” said Dick Davidson, the school’s business manager and athletic director. “We’re delighted that our students choose to use their well-honed riding skills for such a noteworthy cause.”

Project Rwanda organizers say the “coffee bikes” already have had a considerable positive impact by enabling farmers to decrease the time spent transporting the coffee they harvest to central washing stations and processing facilities. Coffee is Rwanda’s most important export commodity, and helping growers rush fresh coffee “cherries” more quickly to market typically results in a premium of 15 to 20 cents per pound, income that goes directly into the farmer’s pockets.

Later this month, Ritchey will travel to Rwanda’s capital, Kigali, to join Seigel-Boettner in the work.

Alissa Sears is with ChristieCommunications.

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