Lise Olivier, Qhubeka Account Manager, shares her experiences from a recent field visit to Giyani, as well as photos taken by Qhubeka Founder, Anthony Fitzhenry:
In the Qhubeka office we live for field visits. To witness first-hand the impact that a bicycle can make in someone’s life is incredible. To see an entire community shift as a result is even more special.
During our recent trip to Limpopo, we visited three schools around Giyani – a town in the north-east of South Africa’s Limpopo Province, west of the Kruger National Park. The schools we visited were Maphusha High School, Semendhe High School and N’wa-Khada High School.
Since 2014, a total of 3 589 Qhubeka bicycles have been distributed into 14 schools in and around Giyani in partnership with World Vision South Africa. There are seven trained mechanics in the area who service these bicycles.
For some, it may be hard to believe that there are still schools in South Africa without proper amenities and toilet paper. None of the schools that we visited had any sport facilities but the condition of the schools was impeccable.
Several kilometres out of town, we drove past the Xihlovo Library. For me, seeing bicycles parked outside the library is testament to the fact that a Qhubeka Bicycle helps school children to access education more easily – whether that means getting to and from school, being able to travel to the library, or just having more time to go to the library because their commute time is cut by up to 75% with a bicycle.
Although the bicycles in the area are distributed mainly to school children, often other family members also use the bicycles. Each school has an established Bicycle Supervisory Committee (BSC), which regulates the use of the bicycles.
Perhaps the coolest thing that we saw during our trip was five boys racing each other home from school through the single tracks. We could only spot them every now and again through the bushes.
It was also fun to see the creative spirit at one school – almost all the bicycles there were decorated and personalised.
One of the girls we spoke to, Joy (14-years old, Grade 8), said she used to walk an hour to school each way, but now only spends 20 minutes riding her bicycle to school. She and another female recipient, Ntiyiso, said that they are now able to come to school on time and stay later afterwards to study. The story that moved me the most, however, is that the one girl mentioned feeling safer on her bicycle as men do not bother her anymore when she travels home.
“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,” said Joy.
“I’m 16 years. I’m in grade 11B,” said Ntyiso. “I use my bicycle for going to school only. I can stay behind for afternoon studies. I sometimes enjoy riding it when it’s not hot. Now we feel so safe because we arrive at home early and no criminals are able to [keep us] from our way going home.”
Each school we visited has an active mechanic that takes care of the bicycles. Bicycle mechanics are trained by Qhubeka and are provided with the necessary tools to fix the bicycles. These mechanics have been able to start their own business servicing bicycles and selling spare parts. Some of the schoolchildren that have graduated from school are still using the mechanics to service their bicycles. One of the mechanics very proudly brought along his bank slip to show us, which shows that he now has a sustainable business and that he is making money.
Each of the discussions that we had with the school principals was similar. They all feel that the Qhubeka Bicycle programme at their school is a marketing tool and that they are able to attract more and better students. Late-coming and attendance problems have almost completely been eradicated as a result of the bicycles. The last school we visited had a Matric pass rate of over 90%.
Not realising that our founder, Anthony Fitzhenry, was actually in the room, the one principal said, “I wish that the vision of the man who started Qhubeka grows bigger than what he had envisioned.”