How Bicycles have Rescued Girls?
When we first started this Girls Education Project in Zimbabwe, children were spending up to six hours a day walking back and forth from school. Covering distances of around 15 miles round trip, children would arrive at school late, tired and hungry, with little energy left to concentrate.
Nicole, an ambitious and articulate 19-year-old student from a high school in Matabeleland South told me, “At times, it was easier for me to stay at home than to start the long journey to school.” Another girl named Happy, who had a beaming smile befitting her name, said she would leave home at 3am in order to get to school on time.
All this has changed since we began the Girls Education Project, working with 467 communities across Zimbabwe to tackle the social and economic obstacles that prevent girls from going to school. In partnership with World Bicycle Relief, we have distributed 22,000 bicycles to the girls and boys who live the furthest from their schools.
Every school has a committee who identifies children they feel would benefit most from the bikes, and they are responsible for the success of the scheme. Only one theft has been reported since the distribution of bicycles in the community and thankfully it was retrieved. Overall, the respect for the bikes shows the value and importance that everyone places on girls’ education.
Parents contribute a small fee to help with the maintenance. A trained mechanic, selected by the committee, services the bicycles every month on the school premises. This way, the girls don’t have to go to the mechanic themselves. Bicycles are numbered so the girls can easily identify them, and the mechanic can keep a service log sheet that is regularly checked by the project staff.
The beauty of the bicycle programme is that children get to keep their bicycles after two years if their school attendance is satisfactory. This is charting new territory in a society that has traditionally placed low value on property ownership by women. Happy told me she was also allowed to use her bicycle to run errands at home which saved time and let her focus on her homework and studies.
Nicole wants to be a journalist when she finishes school. Thanks to this life-changing project, her dream is being made possible. A bicycle is giving girls like Nicole the chance to get to school every day and to reach their full potential.
A local district officer for the Ministry of Education in Matabeleland North summed up the effect the bicycles have had in his community, “The bicycles have rescued the girls
,” he said. The girls have indeed been rescued from:
The threat of being attacked and abused as they walked to school;
Becoming a school dropout or a teenage pregnancy statistic;
The possibility of being married off to a stranger;
A cycle of poverty, childbirth and diseases.