In Sierra Leone, especially in rural areas, schools are spread out making the commute for students long and tiresome. For some families this hardship can put graduation out of reach. It is not usual to find a student who walks as much as eight miles one way just to get to school. Most walk at least four. The time needed to walk those miles could be better used to help care for siblings, work on the farm, or raise money for the family.
Understanding the challenges rural families face and the struggle to keep young people in school, Village Bicycle Project adjusted their program to focus on providing bikes to students to promote education. Two years ago they began working even more with schools as they applied for bikes to help their students stay in school.
The in-country program director, Abdul Karim Kamara begins the process by making site visits and reviewing data like grades and distances from school. During his interviews, Karim hears recurring themes cited from struggling students who are walking 5-6 miles morning and night. They are often late for school or too tired to even make the journey. If they aren't feeling well or are needed at home or on the family farm, their education suffers.
Magdalene is a student at the St. John Senior Secondary School in Binkolo Village. Her commute to school is nine miles- one way! Now, that she has a bicycle, she arrives much earlier than many of her peers, has improved her grades and has become one of the most promising students at the secondary school.
For Emmanuel, his bike is saving him four hours a day. He used to get up in the dark and leave for school at 4 am just to arrive in time for the 7:30 morning assembly. Now he can leave at 6 am just as the sun is coming up. For Victoria the extra time at home helps her finish her family chores. This is extremely helpful for a family who has to collect water and firewood for cooking or cleaning or baths.
Village Bicycle Project knows education is the key to a better, healthier future. And if distance is the biggest hindrance, they also know bikes can make the difference. A bicycle can be shared among family members and help someone carry four times as much while shortening the time needed also by four times. This is Math we can get behind!
In the schools, Karim identifies an initial batch of about 20 students who will benefit most by receiving a bicycle. Those new beneficiaries also enroll in a half day training session where they can learn how to ride a bike, increase their riding skills, and learn how to care and maintain their bikes. The students all pay a fee for this program, but receive a bike and valuable information on how to keep that bike in good working order. They also receive a student discount. This helps keep the program sustainable and offers a sense a pride to the new owner of the bike.
Already this year, Village Bicycle Project has delivered bikes to students in Makeni, Binkoloh, and Magbafath school districts. Bikes for the World has a container now on the way to help resupply this valuable program.