It may look like just a bicycle…

by oxfamcanada | August 13, 2018
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Alice* used to get sick regularly

For some young people, the road to education can be long and arduous – quite literally. In Balaka District, southern Malawi, where many schoolgirls live up to 25km from the classroom, getting there used to be a struggle. There were no buses or cars to transport them to school – they had to walk.

It may look like just a bicycle...

Grace* lives 15 km away from her school. She used to walk two hours each way every single day, just to ensure she kept up her education. The walk used to make her vulnerable to harassment from young boys and the worry of this used to have an effect on Grace’s concentration and performance in class. Since receiving a bicycle from Oxfam, Grace can now speed past the boys who used to bother her, and spend less time travelling to school and more time learning.Oxfam has so far provided bicycles to 30 girls in schools across Southern Malawi. The selection process has been facilitated by the school bursary committee which comprises of the deputy head teachers, head of departments, teachers, head girls and head boys, village chief and a representative from mother groups, school management committee, PTA (parent’s teacher association) social worker and implementing partners.The distribution of bicycles will be an incentive to the parents and guardians to send the girls to school since distance will no longer be a barrier to their access to education.

Posted by Oxfam Canada on Monday, August 13, 2018

The two-hour journeys on foot were exhausting. Many of the students couldn’t concentrate when they eventually arrived at school; others simply stayed at home despite being desperate to learn. Some would eventually drop out altogether.

It was a vicious cycle – one that Oxfam decided to tackle by distributing bikes to schoolgirls in the region. Esnat*, one of 30 students to receive a bicycle, used to make a five-hour roundtrip to school on foot. "The journey was hard," says the 15-year-old pupil, who lives 25km from her school. "I would be tired and used to doze off in class."

Esnat* with her Oxfam bike
Zainab* was always late for school

"I would sleep when I got home, I didn’t study as I was too tried. My body and legs would ache; sometimes I would skip lessons. I was underperforming in my lessons because I was either absent or not concentrating."

Since getting a bike, Esnat* no longer feels as tired and can study properly: "I am excited about my bike; I will be able to complete my education. Now it takes less than one hour to get to school. I start lessons with my friends so I feel equal to them.

"I am excited about my bike; I will be able to complete my education. Now it takes less than one hour to get to school. I start lessons with my friends so I feel equal to them. – Esnat*

"I want to be a nurse. I have had that passion ever since I was younger. I want to help the sick and my community because we don’t have many nurses. I want to earn money to help my family.

Another schoolgirl who benefitted from Oxfam’s bike project is 14-year-old Alice*, who also wants to be a nurse. Describing her old commute to school as a "bad experience," she says: "I would go to school on Monday but then on a Tuesday I would be absent as I was so sick and tired. I would miss one day a week and go in four days. I forced myself to go. I was arriving at school so tired. I couldn’t concentrate as had I no time to rest. I tried to work hard but I was just so tired."

Girls from Chembera secondary school, Chembera village, Balaka District, with their bicycles
Alice* used to get sick regularly

"We got the bikes two weeks ago. I felt excited and hoped that I would do better in class. Now I travel the same distance but I am not as tired. I still leave at 6AM but now I get to school at 6:30AM. I am hopeful that I will finish my education and get a good job."

Before she got her bike, Zainab* – who lives 18km from school – was always late for class and often missed out on exams. "I was so tired, I would spend lots of time stopping on the way to rest my legs so I would be late for school," says Zainab* (15). "I would miss out on exams and there was no way to make up classes. If you missed a lesson that lesson would be gone. Now I don’t miss any lessons."

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*Names changed
**First published by Oxfam Ireland by Ben Clancy

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