Celebrate Solutions: Bicycles as Vehicles for Change in Zambia

By: Joanna Hoffman, Women Deliver

Fifteen year-old Ethel used to walk more than two hours every day from her home in rural Zambia to reach her school. Last year, she received a bike from World Bicycle Relief that shortens her commute down to 45 minutes, allowing her more time and energy to learn and manage her many responsibilities. “When I received my bicycle, I was so excited,” Ethel told World Bicycle Relief. “Now I would have time to study, travel comfortably to school, and still help with chores... this bicycle has changed my life.”

Ethel’s ability to spend more time on her education will undoubtedly have a powerful effect. When girls are educated, the positive outcomes ripple throughout their lives—they are more likely to marry later, survive childbirth, and raise healthy children. Yet in many parts of the world, girls are not able to receive a quality education for a number of reasons, including a lack of safe transportation options and parental beliefs that a girl’s education is not as important as a boy’s. World Bicycle Relief, in partnership with the Zambian Ministry of Education, is working to address both of these challenges by providing girls with bicycles and spreading awareness about the importance of educating girls.

In rural areas of Zambia, only 60% of children enrolled in primary school continue on to high school. Girls in particular face significant barriers in receiving an education, including time-intensive household responsibilities, long and dangerous commutes to school, and parental preferences for educating boys. The Zambian Ministry of Education recognized these problems, and together with World Bicycle Relief developed the Bicycles for Education Empowerment Program (BEEP), which was launched in 2009.

BEEP seeks to increase school attendance and performance, reduce drop-out rates, engage communities to strengthen school access, and improve the safety of commutes to and from school, with a particularly emphasis on girls. In each school, 70% of bikes provided are given to girls. Bike recipients agree to attend school regularly, teachers and community members agree to complete school responsibilities, and mechanics agree to support the school and the program.

Since the program’s implementation, the percentage of girl participants attending school increased from 65% to 83%, and girls’ academic performance increased by nearly 30%. Before BEEP, 26% of caregivers indicated that girls didn’t have time to study. After the project’s launch, only 4% of caregivers found this to be true.

A significant area of progress has been parents’ attitudes towards sending girls to school—before BEEP was implemented, 73% of caregivers responded that if they only had enough resources to send one child to school, they would send a boy over a girl. After BEEP’s implementation, this response rate dropped to 65%. This indicates that while challenges remain, positive change is taking place slowly but surely.


Read more about BEEP here.

Photo via World Bicycle Relief


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