The name for the initiative came from a personal message sent by a refugee mother to founder Emanuele Santi. Photo: Riding the Rainbow 

The name for the initiative came from a personal message sent by a refugee mother to founder Emanuele Santi. Photo: Riding the Rainbow 

Riding the Rainbow, a Luxembourg-based project providing free used bikes to refugees children in the grand duchy, bridges the gap between benefactors and beneficiaries. Behind the idea is Italian Emanuele Santi, who tells Delano about a revolution in the world of charity.  

The project is an where donors can connect with local refugees to offer their children free bikes. Other items--always free of charge--are also becoming available. While the project was born from the war in Ukraine, it so far has helped underaged refugees from six countries in Luxembourg.

Piercing the veil of grief

“When the Ukrainian crisis came, we asked ourselves what we should do,” says Emanuele Santi, the co-founder of Afrilanthropy, an NGO that works to help African businesses and promote innovation on the continent. 

By March 2022, only a month after the start of the Russian attack on Ukraine, the Riding the Rainbow adventure had begun. The name for the initiative came from a personal message sent by a refugee mother to Santi. In it, she stated that his work had “penetrated the grief of Ukrainian people, and you have given the light of rainbows to my son.”

Closing the gap, taking away fears

The project started off as a personal initiative, says Santi, who in a previous life lived in the US and Africa and was a fund manager. His two children had outgrown their bikes, “which, coincidentally were blue and yellow”, so Santi decided to donate them to Ukrainian refugee children. “The joy in the eyes of the people that came to pick them up… the kids were so delighted.”

This inspired Santi to reach out to Afrilanthropy volunteers, to start a bigger project of bicycle donations. “We got many people who came to fix bikes or opened their garages” to keep donated bikes in different locations of the grand duchy until they found a new owner. Over 300 bikes were handed to refugees that way.

But, Santi and his collaborators soon identified two issues: for one, donors would just drop off their used items and not see the positive impact they had on the refugees in the grand duchy.

Then, the refugees often had to travel long distances--sometimes crossing borders--to come pick up a bike while its previous owner was staying in the same village as them. Aside from being an inconvenience to recipients, this increased the carbon footprint of donations, something Santi wanted to address too.

Boosted by the positive interactions and friendships between locals and newcomers he saw during bike swaps in his garage, Santi decided to create a bridge that would connect the two worlds directly.

Creating a sustainable, global platform

Santi’s dream of closing the gap resonated with institutions too. The Oeuvre nationale de la Grande Duchesse Charlotte--which helps artists and associations, granted Riding the Rainbow a fast-track application and funding. The André Losch foundation also supports the project.

But, “the idea is that we can self-sustain in the long-term and that we expand beyond the borders of Luxembourg,” Santi tells Delano. The organisation has called on the public to make donations but also plans on extending its reach.

“We’ve already been in touch with other grassroot organisations like ours in other countries. […] Progressively we plan on expanding also outside Luxembourg, and our dream is to export this little Luxembourg project. [We hope that] it can also shift the way globally we think about the Other and can overcome fears and make people reconnect with the people in need.”

After all, the war in Ukraine brought the reality of a conflict closer to home, as shown by the outpour of support seen in Luxembourg and elsewhere in Europe. “We’re leveraging this moment to open up the eyes of people and create opportunities to connect,” because the “connections we’ve seen…it’s something extremely powerful.”

Addition 28.09: The NGO launched its app on 19 September for Android, with an option for the Apple App Store to follow.