World Bicycle Relief
In 2018, sub-Saharan Africa accounted for two-thirds of the global population living in extreme poverty. Although the poverty rate across the region decreased by 1.6% from 2015 to 2018, the benefits of improved infrastructure, education and health care have not reached those living in rural areas without safe and easy transport systems to access essential services and opportunities. World Bicycle Relief works to lessen this disadvantage by providing bicycles to members of rural communities in sub-Saharan Africa. Founded in 2005 by F.K. Day and Leah Missbach Day, the organization empowers millions to pull themselves out of poverty.

Gender Equality

World Bicycle Relief places priority on women and girls, with the organization striving for females to account for 70% of bicycle beneficiaries. Girls in sub-Saharan Africa often find that traditional gender expectations for them to take long walks for water and firewood daily, journeys that are sometimes unsafe and increase the risk of assault and harassment, stunt their personal agency. Riding bicycles not only cuts down on time taken for domestic chores but also allows girls to travel to school safely and quickly.

Over the last 10 years, World Bicycle Relief has worked in partnership with the Ministry of Education in Zambia to provide almost 37,000 rural girls with bicycles. A controlled trial found that the bicycles reduced the likelihood of girls dropping out of school by 19%, decreased school absenteeism rates by 28% and reduced school commute times by 33%. Furthermore, experiences of sexual harassment while journeying to school decreased by 22%.

In Kenya, health care workers using World Bicycle Relief-provided bicycles served “88% more patients,” highlighting the importance of effective transport in health and well-being in rural communities.

In a USAID-funded project from 2006-2009, World Bicycle Relief partnered with RAPIDS (Reaching HIV/AIDS Affected People with Integrated Development and Support) to tackle the AIDS crisis in Zambia. The organization gave more than 18,000 bicycles to RAPIDS caregivers, allowing RAPIDS to reach more people and deliver higher quality care due to more frequent visits. Since World Bicycle Relief’s participation in RAPIDS, caregiver retention has risen to 66%, a marked increase from earlier stages.

Rural Economic Development

To ensure that users utilize the bicycles to their best potential, World Bicycle Relief gives each community the responsibility to design and adapt its own bicycle program. The organization’s “field team also helps local leaders establish a Bicycle Supervisory Committee,” which selects each individual bicycle recipient based on factors such as commute time and potential for improved service with a bicycle. Each bicycle recipient “enters into a time-bound term agreement” with the Committee and officially owns the bike upon attainment of specific requirements, such as completing their education, helping to further community development or supplying health or financial services.

In October 2021, USAID announced an allocation of funding of $3.5 million to the Bicycles for Growth Initiative, helping J.E Austin Associates and World Bicycle Relief expand mobility in rural sub-Saharan Africa by facilitating transport through bicycles.

The initiative will support research on “access to bicycles in Ghana, Malawi, Rwanda, Uganda and Zambia,” giving more people the chance to access education, health care services and opportunities for income generation.

– Imogen Scott
Photo: Flickr

Providing Bicycles to Families in AfricaFor many children living in rural villages in Africa, the most valuable educational tool is not a pencil or a notebook: it is a bicycle. Several organizations are providing bicycles to families in Africa as a means of bringing education, health services and economic stability to entire communities.

In Zambia, children often have to walk miles to get to school. They might arrive late, miss early classes and face an embarrassing punishment from the teacher. This is a particular problem for girls, who are expected to complete household chores before even starting on their journey.

In 2014, World Bicycle Relief donated 100 bikes to students and faculty at a primary school in Zambia. Now that she rides her bike to school, one girl said she can put all of her energy into concentrating in class, and she has time to study in the evenings.

Providing bicycles to families in Africa also allows them to improve their economic situations. Steel workers and chicken farmers can carry larger and heavier loads to the market. In Zambia, dairy farmers have increased their deliveries by up to 25 percent. Mine workers and door-to-door salesmen use bicycles to shorten their commutes. They save time and energy and are able to afford necessities like food and school supplies.

Women in Sierra Leone and Ghana are responsible for the vast majority of the household chores. As with the men, women use the bicycles to balance heavy materials and travel long distances. For women and girls, however, owning a bike is a form of protection–against sexual assault. Put simply, no man can outrun them anymore.

Despite this, it is far more unlikely for a woman to have access to a bicycle. In places like Sierra Leone, women are discouraged from riding bikes in the belief that it causes them to lose their virginity. Boys and men commandeer the household bicycle, claiming that the women don’t have time to learn how to ride it. However, many organizations are working against this idea: for example, the Village Bicycle Project operates a month-long Learn to Ride program for women and girls in Ghana and Sierra Leone.

Presenting one woman with a bike can improve life for an entire community. In villages in Zambia where HIV is prevalent, taking care of the sick often falls to Community Healthcare Volunteers (CHVs). They care for elderly men and women, orphaned children and those suffering from AIDS. After receiving a bicycle, one female healthcare worker was able to increase the number of patients she visited per day from four to 18.

Providing bicycles to families in Africa not only empowers rural villagers, but it also has positive implications for the environment. The organization Ghana Bamboo Bikes constructs bicycles out of bamboo, an eco-friendly material that, unlike wood, will not result in damage to Ghana’s rainforests.
The bicycles are built to be light, yet stable–good for navigating the roads of rural Ghana. The organization also teaches young men and women with little education how to build the bikes, offering them a job skill that will prove valuable as the demand for bicycles in Africa continues to grow.

Emilia Otte

Improve education

Many students living in poverty realize that education is important. Some living in the remote communities of Zimbabwe are even willing to walk several dangerous miles to get to school. These young students often face a difficult choice: leave home before dawn and risk being assaulted on the way to school or live in poor conditions and be closer to school. To improve education in Zimbabwe, the World Bicycle Relief has started distributing bikes to young students to help them reach school safely.

Transportation can be a huge issue that keeps children out of school or puts them at risk in transit. Girls are often the victims of sexual assault; on the way to school they run the risk of falling victim to sexual abuse and prostitution.

Getting to school by bicycle can help alleviate this danger, as a girl named Blessing states that her 7-mile walk becomes a bike ride of under an hour. Similarly, a girl named Ethel has said that her bicycle saved her enough time to keep up with her studies. With this new mode of transportation, she can even give rides to other students. In contrast, girls who cannot bike to school are forced to spend many nights in dangerous areas in order to get to school on time.

The World Bicycle Relief’s model of the organization is simple: bicycles are used as a method of empowerment. Moreover, the organization’s education efforts have not only been set up in Zimbabwe, but also in Zambia and in South Africa. At present, the World Bicycle Relief has distributed over 24,212 bikes. Students selected by their schools receive safety training and a bicycle. In exchange, young students sign a contract agreeing to attend school regularly.

The World Bicycle Relief also distributes bikes to entrepreneurs, healthcare providers, field mechanics and even ‘tree-preneurs’ (students who plant and nurture 150 saplings in exchange for a bike). Bicycles can therefore help the whole communities in ways beyond education in Zimbabwe, as they make it easier to get to necessary hospital services or to run other critical errands. Field mechanics are trained and given the tools to start their own bicycle businesses in order to multiply this effort.

The World Bicycle Relief has been providing transportation to many people throughout southern Africa. Their efforts to improve education in Zimbabwe as well as other countries are empowering children to take control of their education. By reducing the commute time and the risk involved in getting to school, the overall quality of life of youth living in remote regions improves.

Jeanette I. Burke

Photo: Flickr