On 11 October every year, the UN marks International Day of the Girl Child. In 2017, the theme is how to ‘EmPOWER Girls: Before, during and after crises’. According to a statement by UN Women, “Throughout 2017 we have seen growing conflict, instability and inequality, with 128.6 million people this year expected to need humanitarian assistance due to security threats, climate change and poverty… Displaced and vulnerable women and girls face higher risks of sexual and gender-based violence, as well as damage to their livelihoods.”
The statement ends with a call to action: “Let us commit to investing in skills training and education for girls and livelihood activities for young women around the world who are facing crises. Far from being passive recipients of assistance, these girls are leaders who will use the skills that they develop today to rebuild their communities, and create a better future for all of us.”
At Qhubeka, we support this vision and seek to rise to this call by providing bicycles to girls to help them access education, healthcare and other basic services. A bicycle is a tool in a girl’s hands that can help her to change her future.
Here are some stories from girls in South Africa that show how bicycles change lives:
Olwethu is 18 years old and lives in the Kayamandi informal settlement in South Africa’s Western Cape province. Before she had a bicycle, Olwethu had to walk about 3km per day between getting to and from school and collecting water for the household (one of her daily chores). Olwethu earned her Buffalo Bicycle from Qhubeka by achieving excellent marks in school despite trying obstacles that stand in her way.
Olwethu dreams of studying medicine, and now that she is able to get to school faster, more safely and more regularly, her dream is one step closer.
“Riding my bicycle has brought me closer to myself. It has taught me to be brave. The bicycle has changed my life,” says Olwethu. “It is a very brave thing to ride a bicycle if you are a female because with most people there’s this gender stereotype that riding a bicycle is for men. But I’m standing proud that I can ride my bicycle as a female and show them that not only men can ride. We also can do this.”
Joy is 14 years old and in Grade 8. She lives in Giyani, a town in rural Limpopo province. She says she used to walk an hour to school each way, but now only spends 20 minutes riding her bicycle to school. She is now able to arrive at school on time and stay later afterwards to study.
“I feel good because we are able to come to school by time. And sometimes many learners did not want to come to school because they have to travel a long distance. So I say thank you,” says Joy.
Bicycles are also a tool that help people to reach girls with important services. For example, the groundBREAKER Mobility Project is a partnership between Qhubeka and loveLife that aims to help loveLife volunteers, known as groundBREAKERs and mpintshis, to implement community programmes more effectively and efficiently through the use of bicycles.
“As a groundBREAKER, I look after life skills in four schools in the Northern Areas of Port Elizabeth,” says Shevriano Billet (21), a groundBREAKER in Booysens Park. “I do two periods in each school per week. During that time I talk about lifestyle choices, career options, and HIV / AIDS awareness. The schools are far from each other, so a bicycle will save me time. I’m also excited about having a bicycle because the books we have to carry between schools are really heavy and this will make it so much easier to transport them.”