Changing The Lives Of African Girls Starts With Just Giving Them Bikes

Credit: World Bicycle Relief
Credit: World Bicycle Relief

Bicycles are often taken for granted in the U.S., as even some of the poorest people in the nation often own bikes and use them regularly to commute to work. In countries like Africa, however, bikes are rarer but also a much-needed form of transportation.

While bikes are typically used for leisure or exercise in the U.S., they can be critical to the daily lives of impoverished people in countries worldwide. Daily tasks often require miles of walking, which makes some activities impossible to complete and affects the livelihood of each person.

For Monica Maungila, a seventh grader at Katoba Primary School in Zambia, going to school everyday was a challenge. She would walk nearly 4 miles one way to school and back everyday, and was often late because of this long commute.

Other tasks were also difficult, such as fetching water and going to the clinic when her siblings were sick. Like most African girls, retrieving water is often delegated to her and can take up huge chunks of time while also putting a strain on her head, where she holds the bucket.

Credit: World Bicycle Relief
Credit: World Bicycle Relief

Suddenly, everything changed in Monica’s life: she was arriving at school on time or early, she would bring along her siblings if they needed to go to the clinic, and she no longer carried a bucket full of water on her head. Her life had improved drastically, and it was all because she was given a bicycle.

“I appreciate the bicycle,” Monica told Global Citizen. “It gives me a lot of things — coming to school, going home, fetching water, going to the grinding mill, getting to the clinic.”

Monica is one of many people to have received a bike through an organization called World Bicycle Relief, who has expanded their efforts tremendously since its inception in 2004. What started out as a way to help Sri Lankan people impacted by the Indian Ocean tsunami turned into a global movement that has since given 300,000 bikes to students, healthcare workers, and entrepreneurs in 18 countries. Since their non-profit is doing so well, their 10-year goal is to distribute 1 million bikes annually around the world.

“When we got into Zambia starting in 2006, the challenge there was that there weren’t any high-quality bicycles,” Dave Neiswander, the president of World Bicycle Relief told Global Citizen. “The pedals fell off, frames bent, spokes broke, saddles collapsed.”

The organization designed a bicycle called the Buffalo Bicycle to handle the rugged terrain in countries like Zambia with thick tires, a protected gearbox, and a rear rack that can hold up to 220 pounds. Since unpaved roads aren’t as common in the country, navigating through uneven ground is essential for everyone.

Credit: World Bicycle Relief
Credit: World Bicycle Relief

The Relief primarily relies on donations but also benefits when people they hadn’t yet considered giving bikes are ordering them on their own. An impact-assessment report conducted soon after they started the organization revealed the following:

“What they found was the bicycles really made a big difference,” Neiswander said. “They improved the access to healthcare, education, economic development. The bicycles were reducing the cost of transportation, they were connecting people.”

Girls with bikes were less likely to become child brides and more likely to complete high school, which is a key factor in ending the cycle of poverty. The bike becomes the most important part of the household, and when the girl returns from school the other family members can use it. Bikes provide a much-needed way to improve the lives of an entire family, and are a simple solution to the huge problem of poverty and all of the issues that come with it.

If you would like to donate to World Bicycle Relief, you can do so here. 

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