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Woodstock resident recruits team of volunteers to run 'Sharecycle' for developing countries

by: MERRY MACKINNON - Spending three years in rural Zambia raised the consciousness of Woodstock resident and 'Sharecycle's' founder Clark Negen about how few possessions such communities have, and, that led him to start a nonprofit that sends recycled items to NGOs and community groups in developing countries.In the garage next to the house he lives in, on S.E. 52nd Avenue in Woodstock, Clark Negen has an old bicycle, a soccer ball, a sewing machine, children’s books and running shoes.

It’s the kind of stuff suitable for a yard sale. And yard sales are where Negen and other members of Sharecycle collected them.

A nonprofit, Sharecycle finds and then ships recycled items to remote communities in developing countries. The assortment of used items in Negen’s garage was donated, and will be shipped to Africa – where a sewing machine is a valuable resource, and a soccer ball is better than the rolled up plastic bags secured with string that children use for the game in the rural village in Zambia in which Negen was a Peace Corps volunteer.

“My Peace Corps experience changed me,” Negen reflects. “I realized how wealthy I was.”

One of the first things the Peace Corps taught Negen to do was to perform a “needs assessment”. “We learned to listen to the villagers,” Negen recalls.

When they were asked to express what they wanted, the villagers’ needs seemed simple enough. The men wanted tools. The women wanted a mechanical mill to relieve them of the tedious task of pounding grain by hand.

Thanks to the generosity of Negen’s family, the men of that village did get some tools. But the women didn’t get their mill. “It’s complicated,” Negen says. “It was an issue of maintenance.” But, with Negen’s help, the village did get a school building, and wells for clean water.

Years after finishing his Peace Corps stint, Negen set out on another mission that’s also complicated. He’d never lost contact with some of his friends in Africa, and often sent packages of needed items. But he wanted to do much more: “I started thinking that there has to be other people in Portland who share the same interest to do something on a global scale.”

After placing an ad online in Craigslist, Negen recruited a cadre of volunteers, and in 2011 they started a nonprofit called “Sharecycle”. Its mission is to send needed items to rural communities in developing countries in Africa and, eventually, to developing countries worldwide.

“We’re going very slowly, so when it’s time to go on a large scale, we’re prepared,” says Negen, Sharecycle's president.

Recently, a Sharecycle shipment arrived at the port in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, destined for an orphanage for young girls. Based on a list of items the orphanage requested, Sharecycle shipped six sewing machines, 500 books (in English), converters for the sewing machines, and 30 soccer balls.

Last year a group of subsistence farmers in Zambia received beekeeping supplies, books, chalk, and notebooks, from Sharecycle.

“Sometimes we buy things new,” says Sharecycle Vice President Sara Demba, adding that Sharecycle holds fundraisers to cover shipping and purchases.

To get recycled items, the Sharecycle staff, who are unpaid, scan yard sales posted on Craigslist and elsewhere, and then contact the person, asking for donated unsold items after the sale ends. Sharecycle doesn’t want all leftovers – just those items that are on the list requested by the partners overseas. That includes such items as single-geared bicycles, kitchen utensils, film cameras, short wave radios, laptop computers, and vegetable and flower seeds.

But it’s not as though laptops and seeds can simply be packed and shipped off to Africa.

“It’s complicated,” Negen says repeatedly about Sharecycle’s mission. The nonprofit not only has to follow government certification rules for things like seeds and laptops, but Negen and other volunteers have to be careful that they do not upset the culture by giving away free, for example, consumer items that an entrepreneur might be selling locally.

Getting Sharecycle going has been a challenge, Negen admits. “It’s not easy, but you just have to try,” he adds resolutely.

For more information, go online to: www.sharecyclepdx.org