When was the last time you had to walk to work after missing a bus or train, or in order to keep fit? If you were a daytime scholar in primary and elementary school, how did you commute to class? To some of you, a school bus or your parents’ car was a guaranteed form of transport, whilst others would use public means. The ability to make our way to school is something so easily taken for granted, but also places us in a position to have a better chance in life in all the ways that education affords us.

 

Now picture this: In limited-resource settings, where one public school serves an enormous district, a female student getting access to a bicycle means reporting to school earlier and staying there for longer. How does this work? One might ask. Imagine Carol*, who’s 15 years old and treks six kilometers to school every day. She can’t return home for lunch because of the distance, hence she carries boiled potatoes or dried groundnuts wrapped in fresh banana leaves for her lunch. It is important to note that Kenyan public schools do not serve meals. Carol just like other girls skip lunch when in school.

 

Daily, Carol spends two hours on the road in order to fulfil one of her basic human rights which is to be educated. Carol’s case is a reflection of thousands of other girls’ lives in rural and hard-to-reach parts of Kenya. Every morning, Carol makes breakfast for the whole family and cleans their mud-thatched house. House chores are a cultural practice for girls in most parts of rural Africa, and Carol’s family is no exception. After all, by their reasoning, she is being trained to be a better wife and mother in the future.

 

Carol has to wake up at 4:30 am so as to finish the house chores and make it to school in good time. After school, she has to wash the utensils used during the day (which have been lying around, waiting for her) and help prepare supper. At the end of the day, Carol is usually exhausted and often fails to do her homework.

 

This whole scenario understandably disadvantages Carol in her pursuit to become a doctor. In fact, life had become so overwhelming for her that she gradually began to lose interest in school. Carol been slowly relenting to the advances of the village carpenter, who promised her a relaxed life if she became his second wife. Each day as she walked to school, he would match pace with her and paint a picture with his words of the comfortable life he could create for her.

 

It was a stressful decision to make; Carol had to decide between persevering with hard labour at home, walking for long distances to school so as to one day achieve her career dreams or drop schooling altogether and get married as a second wife in order to get some rest. Carol was not being pushed towards a potential early marriage because she wanted it, but rather because her unfair circumstances were inching her towards it against her will.

 

Just before Carol made her decision, something great happened in her village. A charitable organisation stepped in to the rescue of girls who live far from the school by offering them free bicycles for their commute! Carol learned of this new community initiative from her girlfriends and quickly enrolled for it through the Local Chief’s office and received her brand-new bicycle soon after. Now, she is able to ride to school within 20 minutes. She gets to school in the morning feeling fresh and excited to learn, not tired or discouraged like before. 

 

Now when Carol rides to school on her black bicycle, she raises eyebrows in the village by dismantling cultural beliefs that claim that riding bicycles is a ‘boy thing’. Interestingly, Carol has also noticed that when she cycles on her bike to and from school, she has immensely reduced the time for interaction with exploitative and opportunistic men who loiter on the roadside, seeking to exploit her sexually by promising her the world when she feels exhausted and impressionable. 

 

Now, Carol is cycling towards success. And in case you were wondering… she isn’t interested in getting married anymore. J

 

From Carol’s experience, it’s important to incorporate a human-centered approach when creating programmes that bring solutions to sexual reproductive health and rights issues that affect girls and young women. A simple solution – an opportunity, an advantage or in this instance, a bicycle – is a simple and elegant solution that is tailored to meet the real needs of girls on the ground. And this is just one of many examples that can help young girls receive the education and opportunities they need to fulfil their potential.

 

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