Posts

Providing Bicycles to Families in Africa
For 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